Sherman is a better man than what you see

RENTON, Wash. -- Richard Sherman isn't who you think he is.

He isn't any of the awful things he's being called on Twitter these days.

He isn't a gangster or a punk or a moron or a classless jerk.

And, in all honesty, before I became the Seahawks reporter for ESPN.com's NFL Nation this season, I thought a few of those things, too.

I hadn't met Sherman personally and knew him only from his arrogant ways on national television and his occasional taunting of his opponents. He seemed like one of those pampered professional athletes who cared only about himself.

I'm here to tell you, it just isn't true.

As someone who interacts with Sherman on a regular basis, I can say, unequivocally, that he is as nice a guy as you could ever meet. He goes out of his way to be cooperative and courteous to anyone who needs a moment of his time.

Sherman also is one of the most intelligent young men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is a proud graduate of Stanford, one of the most prestigious academic universities in the world.

He is a rare individual who managed to overcome his station in life, growing up in L.A.'s Compton neighborhood, a place where danger lurks, on every corner, at every moment.

That environment comes with people constantly doubting you, a feeling Sherman knows all too well. So he enters each day wanting to show those doubters they were wrong.

And, sometimes, it gets the best of him, as it did after Sunday's emotional 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Sherman made the game-saving play at the end, showing his athleticism in tipping away a pass in the end zone intended for 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, which linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted for the Seahawks.

That's when Sherman lost his composure in the excitement of the moment. He failed to take the high road and reverted to his bad-boy image.

“I'm the best corner in the game," Sherman yelled in a Fox Sports interview moments after the game. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're gonna get. Don't you ever talk about me. Don't you open your mouth about the best or I'm gonna shut it for you real quick.”

Crabtree had said Sherman wasn't the best cornerback in the league. For Sherman, it was another doubter, something he can't accept.

So Sherman let it fly and fed into all the perceptions people have of him. He apologized on Monday, but probably made a lot of people Broncos fans for the Super Bowl.

That doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but it's sad that Sherman's national reputation is so different from the person he is, a truly giving and passionate guy who dedicates himself to underprivileged kids growing up in the same environment he faced. He tells them, "If I can do it, you can do it."

Sherman is an emotional man. Those emotions are heightened in the heat of a game.

“We did sit down and talk about it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “I want him to present himself in his best light. He's an incredible kid. He really cares and has great awareness. He's a very thoughtful person, but he knows he caused a stir.

“He was really clear [in their meeting] that the last thing he wanted to do was take something away from what our team has accomplished. He got caught in the throes of the battle, particularly for a guy who plays on such an edge, emotionally, like Richard does.”

One of the many things I have learned in more than 30 years of covering sports is that an athlete's public image often differs enormously from who he or she is away from the public eye.

An athlete can come across as Santa Claus when the camera lights are on but be closer to the Grinch when no cameras are around.

Sherman is the opposite side of that equation, an ogre to some in his national persona but a man you would be proud to call your friend if you knew him away from the limelight.

Sherman made a mistake Sunday night, but he isn't the person you think he is.