In Crisis Management, Reputation

iStock_000017591257SmallToday, Richard Sherman taught a class in crisis recovery.

Yes, THAT Richard Sherman.  The Seattle cornerback who’s post-game, “I-am-the-greatest” rant drew so much criticism, showed us a difference way to deal with a crisis after it’s struck.  And I, for one, am intrigued with his approach.

If you are one of the three people who hasn’t caught the increasingly ugly comments about Sherman’s post-game interview on Sunday, here’s a quick summary: After making an amazing defensive play that sent the Seattle Seahawks’ to the Super Bowl, Sherman’s post-game interview with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews turned into a self-aggrandizing and uncomfortable rant.  Sherman, who was defending 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree near the end of the game, batted a ball to a teammate, ensuring the Seahawks a trip to the Super Bowl. “I’m the best cornerback in the game,” he screamed during the interview. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like (the 49ers Michael) Crabtree, that’s the result you are going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”

In an interview this morning with CNN’s Rachel Nichols, Sherman backed off on the personal attack on Crabtree, but refused to retract his own Mohammed Ali act.   “I probably shouldn’t have attacked another person,” he told Nichols in an exclusive interview that will air in its entirety Friday night on CNN’s “Unguarded.” “You know, I don’t mean to attack him. And that was immature and I probably shouldn’t have done that. I regret doing that.”

When Nichols asked him if he regretted what he said to Andrews he said, “There’s not much about it I regret.. .Mostly I regret — I guess — the storm afterward, the way it was covered — the way it was perceived. The attention that it took away from the fantastic performances of my teammates.”

But then he went to the heart of the matter:  We expect our football players to be animals on the field and gentlemen the moment the play clock winds down.  Sherman used his intellect (he began his post-graduate studies at Stanford while still playing football) to put his trash-talking self into a perspective that really made me think.

He reminded us that it takes certain characteristics to become a successful football player, like intensity, focus and yes, anger.  He pointed out that the interview was right after his game-changing play and that he was still in the emotional state that helped him make it.  “If you catch me in the moment on the field when I am still in that zone, when I’m still as competitive as I can be and I’m trying to be in the place where I have to be to do everything I can to be successful … and help my team win, then it’s not going to come out as articulate, as smart, as charismatic — because on the field I’m not all those things,” he said.

While some might call this “The Popeye Defense” (“I yam who I yam”) I found it refreshing and an interesting way to deal with a gaffe that could possibly taint his career, especially post-football.   As a crisis manager, I often advise clients to offer an early and sincere apology to begin the job of rebuilding a reputation that’s taken a hit.  This is a different take on a post-crisis response.  And while I think this could be a risky tact to take, I believe Richard Sherman may just have pulled it off.  It’s made me think and that’s something that a lot of folks engaged in this firestorm don’t appear to be doing.


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