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Richard Sherman, athletes and emotion: where do we draw the line?

Prompted by the post-game interview with Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman, sports media began a firestorm against the athlete. Was his "rant" all about passion, desire and hunger, or was it an outburst from a selfish athlete?

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle's win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game not only set the table for Super Bowl XLVIII, but it also ignited a heated debate after Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman's, ahem, animated interview with Erin Andrews.

By now we've all (apart from those who ignore all things NFL) seen it. We've seen the video and the GIFs, heard all the jokes and criticisms Tweeted about it all day and night, Facebooked our opinions and responded to those who disagreed. And by now, Richard Sherman is at the front of everyone’s mind.

PtR's Dr. Andrea Duke and J.R. Wilco discuss why that is, and what his actions – and the criticism they drew – say about what we expect from athletes.

Andrea Duke

Some are calling it a rant. Others are calling it passion. There are even some who are calling it a WWE-esque interview. Even more ridiculous are those who are calling it a "thuggish outburst."

To everyone complaining about Sherman, I say: Let it go.

First, sports are about passion. Passion as a player and passion as a fan. We watch and experience sports in order to fulfill needs and motivations, to feel like we belong to something bigger than us and enjoy the victory right along with our team. And as an athlete, those emotions and motivations are even bigger, as their image and brand, their income and family depend on the success of the game. While our desire to win is great, an athlete’s desire is much, much more.

Was Sherman rude? Yes. Was he out of line? Yes. But that is what happens when emotions take over. His team just secured a trip to the Super Bowl. He helped gain that NFC championship. Can any of us understand the enormity of that accomplishment?

Sports media and people in the profession are brilliant at presenting opinions and over-dramatizing topics they know are outrageous. Last night’s interview was great TV. It was entertaining. And in particular, social media went WILD in contributing to the firestorm. No matter which team you pledge your allegiance, all sport fans possess a connection to teams, and this connection leads to a sport identity, which leads to outward (vocal and written) expressions. We understand emotions and express those emotions, and while it’s OK for us to rant, it isn’t for athletes?

Kobe rants online. LeBron complains in interviews. Serena Williams throws rackets. Pop gets ejected from games.

These individuals have also been quoted as saying they are great athletes/coaches, complimenting themselves and their accomplishments. And we are fine with that. We don’t criticize them for being egotistical – we call it pride. Yet when Sherman called himself the best last night, he is pompous and selfish? I could agree that Sherman was out-of-line to taunt the other players during the game, and to individually call out Michael Crabtree in the interview, but isn’t that part of sports – the mind game, the psychological culture?

The race to the Super Bowl has been an entertaining yet crazy ride this year, with surprise trades, season-ending injuries and unbelievable weather issues. And each week, sports media have been spoon-fed these stories to cover, hyping up rivalries and knocking down losers. But one thing has never changed over the years, not only in the NFL but all sports on all levels – the emotional drive to win.

I know we all need something to talk about online, and sport media need some angle to make interesting to readers or listeners, but before we start calling an athlete a thug or ungrateful for an outburst just seconds after winning a huge, huge game, think about the emotions running through his/her head. Passion is all about desire and hunger, craving for something so bad you work hard to achieve it. There may have been some anger mixed in with the "outburst," but if there wasn’t passion, there may not have been a win for Seattle.

You can complain about Sherman’s interview, as it was ridiculously entertaining, but understand that his passion comes from his competitive nature as a professional athlete. We all have the want to win, the emotions that come with excitement for something of importance. Sherman got the win and with that came emotions. Hard to criticize someone with that much passion, yet it does settle in the grey area of acceptability.

Athletes have cheated to win. Athletes have physically hurt others to win. Athletes have lied to win. Some will pay any price to win. For others, they win with their passion and drive. And for Sherman, he had passion. No one can argue that after seeing his interview last night. But at what point does passion turn into something more negative, into something that makes society question one’s character?

J.R. Wilco

Here's what I reacted to from Richard Sherman's performance on Sunday night.

1) The way he immediately chased down Michael Crabtree after beating him on the 49ers' final play.
2) How he came off more angry than happy after the win
3) That he ignored the question Andrews asked and ignored his team in the pursuit of embarrassing an opponent

What I think highlights this issue more than anything is that the entire Seahawks team didn't make asses of themselves on Sunday night. It was just Sherman. Were his emotions stronger than those of the rest of his teammates? Was his passion so overpowering that it would have carried away anyone in a Seahawks uniform if they'd felt it for an instant? I don't believe so. Everyone else on his team was able to either control their emotions, or channel them into more productive outlets.

I think the media reaction was based on the fact that our culture still predominately looks down on me-first, chest-thumping, ego-driven showboats who are sore losers/winners. Take any of those individual descriptors away and people turn a blind eye to it. But when it's all put together in a single package, the taste is so strong that people will just spit it right back out.