If you’re like me, the biggest news story of 2014 (so far) isn’t Bridgegate, or the Polar Vortex or legalized weed in Colorado (although we do have an all-weed state Super Bowl) it’s when Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks did this on Sunday…
“I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the results you gon’ get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”
I had people over at my apartment to watch and we probably rewound the DVR 15 times. Giddily. Not the actual play - where Sherman stopped the 49ers’ winning drive to win the NFC Championship by amazingly deflecting a pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone with 30 seconds left (we only rewound that four or five times) - but him TALKING about it after the game. And that’s what most of American sports fans were talking about too. Conservative types and uptight sports analysts talked about how Sherman had no class and was unsportsmanlike. Actually, if you watch Fox Sports interviewer, Erin Andrews’ face during Sherman’s tirade, she looks like she’s just smelled a really bad fart. Then she indignantly asks, “Who was talking about you?" And Sherman responds with, "Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best. Or I'ma shut it for you real quick. L.O.B.!" You know, in reference to the Legion of Boom, Seattle’s secondary. And then they cut away. Sorry, conservative types. And sorry, Erin Andrews. This may not be one of your precious TruBiotics commercials. But Richard Sherman just moved more products than you ever will. And nobody seems to get it. Let me help you…
Richard Sherman just made the league, and more importantly, himself millions of dollars. Because isn’t that was this is all about anyway? I’m not an NFL fan and I didn’t even know who Sherman was before he gave that interview, and I’m technically in a Nike commercial with him. But now most of America knows who he is. And people will be more invested in the Super Bowl - to see him back up his statements or to see Peyton Manning make him eat his words. Endorsements are going to come falling from the sky. He’ll probably even be an analyst when his career is over. Nothing but good is going to come from this. But I also understand all of that because I understand professional wrestling. And, more specifically, I understand the art of cutting a promo.
With the advent of television in the late 40’s and early 50’s, professional wrestling entered its first Golden Age. And the new medium also added another dimension to the sport - the promotional interview. It’s known in the wrestling business as "cutting a promo,” and its use is designed to advance wrestling’s storylines, feuds and gimmicks. Basically, talking shit on television has been a staple of American sports and culture since its inception. And it can also sell a lot of merchandise. In 1996, a little known wrestler who had previously been going by the awful name of ‘The Ringmaster’ won the the WWF’s King of the RIng tournament by defeating Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts had been using a new Born Again Christian gimmick. And the Ringmaster was now going by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. And after defeating Roberts, Austin strutted down to an announcer for his coronation interview. Austin berated Roberts for being a has been before proclaiming, “You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers and it didn’t get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16. Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!" The promo was designed to make the crowd hate Austin even more. It didn’t work. It launched him into superstardom and his 'Austin 3:16’ t-shirt is one of (if not the) most popular and highest selling t-shirts of all time.
The art of the promo is also the difference between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Frazier was every bit Ali’s equal in the ring and has 41 heavyweight rounds of boxing with Ali to prove it. But in 2006, Muhammad Ali sold 80% of the rights to his name and likeness for $50 million. And when an HBO documentary crew interviewed Joe Frazier in 2009, he was living in a small room in the back of his Philadelphia boxing gym. What’s that got to do with wrestling? Well, when a young Cassius Clay met a wrestler named Gorgeous George (or it might have been "Classy” Freddie Blassie, he’s not sure) in 1961, George told him, “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.” Georgeous George was one of the first television stars in wrestling history. And after that, Clay/Ali was inspired to say things like that he would “float like a butterfly [and] sting like a bee,” before his title fight with Sonny Liston in 1964. After he defeated the heavily-favored Liston for the first of his three heavyweight titles, the 'Louisville Lip’ repeatedly shouted, “I shook up the world,” and “I am the greatest,” while reporters (who looked like they just smelled a bad fart) struggled to for an interview. Look familiar, Erin Andrews? Oh, I should also mention that supposedly 97% of Americans over the age of 12 can recognize Muhammad Ali. 0% of Mike Bridenstines could have recognized Richard Sherman before Sunday. But that’s before Sherman 3:16 said he just whipped your ass.
The most recent Sports Illustrated even said that Sherman was “impersonating a WWE villain in his post game interview." Exactly. What did you want him to say? That his team played hard and he gives thanks to God, first and foremost? That’s boring. You can keep your classy. I’ll keep my "Classy” Freddie Blassie. And I’m rooting for Sherman in the frozen tundra of MetLife Stadium at Super Bowl XLVII on February 2nd. And that’s the bottom line.
Muhammad Ali, the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who helped define his turbulent times as the most charismatic and controversial sports figure of the 20th century, died on Friday. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman.
Ali was the most thrilling if not the best heavyweight ever, carrying into the ring a physically lyrical, unorthodox boxing style that fused speed, agility and power more seamlessly than that of any fighter before him.
But he was more than the sum of his athletic gifts. An agile mind, a buoyant personality, a brash self-confidence and an evolving set of personal convictions fostered a magnetism that the ring alone could not contain. He entertained as much with his mouth as with his fists, narrating his life with a patter of inventive doggerel. (“Me! Wheeeeee!”)
Ali was as polarizing a superstar as the sports world has ever produced — both admired and vilified in the 1960s and ’70s for his religious, political and social stances. His refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War, his rejection of racial integration at the height of the civil rights movement, his conversion from Christianity to Islam and the changing of his “slave” name,Cassius Clay, to one bestowed by the separatist black sect he joined, the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, were perceived as serious threats by the conservative establishment and noble acts of defiance by the liberal opposition.
Loved or hated, he remained for 50 years one of the most recognizable people on the planet.
In later life Ali became something of a secular saint, a legend in soft focus. He was respected for having sacrificed more than three years of his boxing prime and untold millions of dollars for his antiwar principles after being banished from the ring; he was extolled for his un-self-conscious gallantry in the face of incurable illness, and he was beloved for his accommodating sweetness in public.
That passive image was far removed from the exuberant, talkative, vainglorious 22-year-old who bounded out of Louisville, Ky., and onto the world stage in 1964 with an upset victory over Sonny Liston to become the world champion. The press called him the Louisville Lip. He called himself the Greatest.
Ali also proved to be a shape-shifter — a public figure who kept reinventing his persona.
As a bubbly teenage gold medalist at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, he parroted America’s Cold War line, lecturing a Soviet reporter about the superiority of the United States. But he became a critic of his country and a government target in 1966 with his declaration “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.”
“He lived a lot of lives for a lot of people,” said the comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. “He was able to tell white folks for us to go to hell.”
But Ali had his hypocrisies, or at least inconsistencies. How could he consider himself a “race man” yet mock the skin color, hair and features of other African-Americans, most notably Joe Frazier, his rival and opponent in three classic matches? Ali called him “the gorilla,” and long afterward Frazier continued to express hurt and bitterness.
If there was a supertitle to Ali’s operatic life, it was this: “I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.” He made that statement the morning after he won his first heavyweight title. It informed every aspect of his life, including the way he boxed.
The traditionalist fight crowd was appalled by his style; he kept his hands too low, the critics said, and instead of allowing punches to “slip” past his head by bobbing and weaving, he leaned back from them.
Eventually his approach prevailed. Over 21 years, he won 56 fights and lost five. His Ali Shuffle may have been pure showboating, but the “rope-a-dope” — in which he rested on the ring’s ropes and let an opponent punch himself out — was the stratagem that won the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman in 1974, the fight in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in which he regained his title.
His personal life was paradoxical. Ali belonged to a sect that emphasized strong families, a subject on which he lectured, yet he had dalliances as casual as autograph sessions. A brief first marriage to Sonji Roi ended in divorce after she refused to dress and behave as a proper Nation wife. (She died in 2005.) While married to Belinda Boyd, his second wife, Ali traveled openly with Veronica Porche, whom he later married. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.
Ali was politically and socially idiosyncratic as well. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the television interviewer David Frost asked him if he considered Al Qaeda and the Taliban evil. He replied that terrorism was wrong but that he had to “dodge questions like that” because “I have people who love me.” He said he had “businesses around the country” and an image to consider.
As a spokesman for the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum dedicated to “respect, hope and understanding,” which opened in his hometown, Louisville, in 2005, he was known to interrupt a fund-raising meeting with an ethnic joke. In one he said: “If a black man, a Mexican and a Puerto Rican are sitting in the back of a car, who’s driving? Give up? The po-lice.”
But Ali had generated so much good will by then that there was little he could say or do that would change the public’s perception of him.
“We forgive Muhammad Ali his excesses,” an Ali biographer, Dave Kindred, wrote, “because we see in him the child in us, and if he is foolish or cruel, if he is arrogant, if he is outrageously in love with his reflection, we forgive him because we no more can condemn him than condemn a rainbow for dissolving into the dark. Rainbows are born of thunderstorms, and Muhammad Ali is both.”