By Wilfred J. Lucas
By now, everyone who watches football has seen or heard about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s rant after an acrobatic block of a pass at the end of the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. And as you might expect, everyone has an opinion about him personally and as a football player. The most ugly comments seem to be the result of people evaluating his actions through the complex prism of race: A black man with talent who stands up and proclaims to the world that he is the best at what he does. Instead of comparing him with the traits that have made all successful Americans great, some have given to calling him a “Thug.”
My hope in writing this article is that everyone learns something, even Richard Sherman. Sherman possesses the things that have made him successful and even models the traits that gave birth to our nation. Maybe it is not an accident that the Sunday, Jan. 27 issue of the New York Times had an article about Richard Sherman and another one in another section about “Success.” I saw a real connection.
In the Times article titled “What Drives Success”, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld (Yale Law professors), asserted that there are three things that successful individuals possess: a superiority complex, impulse control and a deep sense of inferiority.” According to the article:
“It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder; a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control – the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.”
The authors also linked these same three things to what gave birth to America as a nation:
“The United States itself was born a Triple Package nation, with an outsize belief in its own exceptionality, a goading desire to prove itself to aristocratic Europe (Thomas Jefferson sent a giant moose carcass to Paris to prove that America’s animals were bigger than Europe’s) and a Puritan inheritance of impulse control.”
Ben Shipegel’s article on Richard Sherman in the same NY Times that same Sunday, shows that he has succeeded despite the odds. He grew up in Compton, California among drugs, gangs and violence and dealt with the death of his best friend. Yet at the same time he had two disciplined parents who made certain that he stayed focused enough to help ensure that he graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA and a football scholarship to Stanford. Richard did not want to be just average. He worked hard on the field and in the classroom where he excelled in math. He listened to his teachers and coaches who saw the potential. He wanted to be the best. His heroes were not shrinking violets: NFL greats Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin, and champion boxer turned humanitarian Muhammad Ali. They were passionate, charismatic and highly confident of their abilities, and as we know, they were willing to tell the world how good they were.
So, it is no surprise that Richard Sherman has an “ego” to go with his talent. At every level he has succeeded. He is a driven man. So why are some of us “put off” by a national television rant after a highly emotional game? We do not see the hard work and discipline in his developmental years. We do not see or acknowledge his giving back to his community through his family foundation. The real man seems invisible. We are blinded by the outward display of ego! Why can’t we see the “good man”? Maybe it is our cultural rejection of Braggarts! Maybe it is also our cultural rejection of focusing attention on the “I” in a team sport that we think should be about the “we.” And maybe it is more gut-level than we would like to admit: Who does this dreadlocked, Thug-acting, braggart, N-word think he is?
Unfortunately, Richard Sherman will have to learn that despite his talent, he must learn to balance ego, insecurities of origin and patience to get society to recognize and value his modeling of the traits that also make us great as a nation. In the words of Judy Smith, crisis expert who inspired the hit TV show, Scandal, “When an ego rampages unchecked, it stomps on good judgment, self-analysis, and self-control. An ego without limits is like a car with no brakes; if you can’t figure out how to regain control, you may well wind up driving right off a cliff.”
For all those who respect Sherman’s climb to the top of his profession, let’s hope Sherman will reflect on balancing the components of ego, insecurity and impulse control. For all those who want Sherman to fail, enjoy the entertainment value. According to one news report, Sherman’s rant is worth $5 million in endorsement deals for him. Ain’t American Great?!?
Wilfred J. “Will” Lucas is President of the W. Lucas Group, Inc., a leadership development and executive coaching firm based in the Chicago area.