Rise of the Shermaniacs

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I loved watching the Animaniacs when I was a kid. Something about the wacky, zany adventures of three cat-type creatures running amok just spoke to me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it did. As it turned out, the show was really meant for a more mature audience, and I wasn’t fully appreciating it given my young age (I was aged 6-11 during the show’s original run, of course there were re-runs long after that).

I only really understood it on the superficial level. Oh Pinky, and the Brain, you’re such an odd couple. Haha. Episodes I saw when I got older had more nuance, more comedy to them. They were downright smart. Obviously the whole thing was before my time, and my still-infantile brain couldn’t fully comprehend something of that scope.

There’s something about the Richard Sherman interview/backlash from last Sunday that strikes me as similar to that. We’ve entered a brave new world of sports coverage where access and visibility are at their zenith. You can actually talk to most your favourite athletes on Twitter now – or at least try to. Imagine explaining that concept to someone 10-15 years ago. Gone are the days of sending in fan mail and hoping for an autographed 8×10 in return.

If 10-year-old Nick had a Twitter account poor Doug Gilmour would have been barraged with questions about what his favourite colour was, and whether he preferred Kraft Dinner or pizza. And if I’d have gotten a retweet from Killer!? Man.

The reality is this level of engagement and access is uncharted waters for us. We’ve never really experienced this kind of access, so we still need to get used to it. It wasn’t so long ago that the NFL was devoid of sideline reporters, or NHL games were broadcast without a guy between the benches. We’ve started taking it for granted, but that is some incredible in-game coverage.

And so it went with Richard Sherman’s now famous post-game interview. Mere minutes after making an exceptional play to send his team to the Super Bowl, he was at once shunned by his opponent Michael Crabtree, and then had a camera shoved in front of him. Incidentally, we all caught a nice little glimpse of Sherman still very much with his “game face” on.

And the reaction was ugly. Sherman was called a ‘thug’ and a ‘monkey’, among many other hateful things. Which was especially awful considering Sherman didn’t do anything besides brag a little and say Crabtree was mediocre. Really not all that bad considering the spectrum of horrible things athletes have said and done.

Of course the irony is that this is everything we’ve ever wanted. We can’t live in the athlete’s world – the one we’ve put on a pedestal – and so we want the access we could never imagine. It’s why we watch 24/7, and created the MLB Fan Cave. The sideline interview is just another example of wanting to get close. On Sunday, we found ourselves right in the middle of Richard Sherman’s world and we couldn’t understand it.

To steal a beautiful Simpsons’ reference, we’re a bit like the mule with the spinning wheel. Damned if we know how we got it, and damned if we know how to use it.

Years without the access have created an unrealistic standard of the athlete. Imagine if Joe Namath had Twitter in his playing days? Surely that would have turned up some pretty unsavoury commentary (which would of course be due his account being ‘hacked’).

These people are never the perfect beings we project them to be in our minds. They have their flaws, and they get angry just like everyone does once in a while. That we expected Richard Sherman to come out acting like a choirboy instantly after his greatest professional moment to date was unrealistic. And that’s on us – the fans.

As we mature and move forward with this Truman Show sports world we’ve created for ourselves, perhaps we’ll come to understand more about who we, and the beings inside it, are. We are people who get upset, we are people who have a great deal of emotion, and are prone to expression. And if we can’t handle the raw emotion of a pro athlete – and rest assured, there will be more like Sherman – maybe we don’t deserve all this access. So far, it looks like we’re damned if we know how to use it.

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