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.