The irrepressible Richard Sherman is back in the news.
First we learn that the Seattle Seahawks have locked down their loquacious cornerback for the next four years with a contract worth $57 million, a historically massive deal for a football defensive back.
Second, after signing his contract with the Seahawks, Sherman weighed in on the Donald Sterling controversy. Because of Roger Goodell’s commitment to the league’s financial bottom line, Sherman said, the NFL would not, could not deliver an Adam Silver-style knockout punch to team owners who crossed the being rich doesn’t allow you to be a racist asshole line Donald Sterling trespassed as an NBA team owner.
Does Richard Sherman deserve the cash?
Absolutely. And not simply because Richard Sherman plays some bitching football. In fact, football is the least of the reasons for paying him top-dollar. The larger reasons are:
- As attention he received for the Roger Goodell comment demonstrates, football virtuosity gives Richard Sherman a fantastic platform for communicating his opinions on race, sports, and society in the United States.
- When his football career has ended, Richard Sherman can leverage his sports celebrity and his communication skills to pursue other venues for displaying all of the ways in which he is “better at life” than most of the rest of us.
So what does it actually mean to be good at life or (if we want to make it a competitive sport) better at life than someone else (perhaps Skip Bayless)?
If we use Richard Sherman as our case study (and why would we not?), people who are good at life might possess the following attributes:
- Driven and Directed — They work hard and strive to be the best at whatever they do.
- Passionate and Present — They are opportunistic, living for the pivotal moment that counts, claiming that moment, tipping history in their direction, exulting in the aftermath.
- Engaging and Eloquent — They enjoy and are good at connecting and communicating with other people.
- Articulate and Aware — Their speech is clear and precise, indicating both measured thought and elevated social awareness.
- Effusive and Energetic — They are extroverts, excitable and outspoken. They enjoy laughing and they enjoy life.
Can being good at life translate into being great at life?
No. Because the difference between these two states is existential. It is the difference between analog and digital, between mechanical and quantum.
Those who are good at life possess basic trust, an unshakable belief that they belong in the world and that, in some fundamental way, the world belongs to them. They occupy historical space and act within it to pursue personal goals aligned with ambition and opportunity.
In the moment, we will acknowledge and celebrate those who are good at life. Time Magazine or Barbara Walters may recognize them in a list. They are “influential” and “fascinating”. They illuminate us.
Richard Sherman is good at life. Barack Obama, LeBron James, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Macklemore, Bill Gates. All good at life. They create the mold. They establish the standard. They set the bar, become the ruler, post a smiling selfie. We make them our role models.
Those who are great at life? Not so much. They break the mold. They destroy standards. They crash through the bar. They feast on failure. They are not role models. One would not want them to post a selfie.
Lacking basic trust, those who are great at life do not experience a fully connected relationship to the world as it exists. They will not easily merge. Death haunts them.
Artists and scientists are often not so good at life. A sad light may illuminate them, a sullen anger gnaw at them. They may hew a savage trail of personal destruction. They obey no rules.
Alienation and solitude can offer compensations, however, including opportunity to stand outside of history, or on the margins of history, and to act upon it, to leverage or bend it, to make the straight way crooked.
Abraham Lincoln. Jimi Hendrix. Picasso. Poe. Melville. Einstein. James Baldwin. Emily Carr. Alan Turing. Charlie Parker. Virginia Woolf. Steve Jobs. Malcolm X. Kanye West. Woody Allen. Charles Barkley. Amy Winehouse. None so good at life. But all great at shifting the plates beneath our feet. Disturbing our universe.
Don’t cry for Richard Sherman if he can’t be great at life. No one chooses to be great at life. Greatness chooses them. And it may take years before that greatness manifests within them. And even then, we may for years or decades or centuries — or forever — label that greatness as failure.
Richard Sherman — with his fine new contract, his talent for claiming the moment, and his clear awareness of social disparity — has chosen to be good at life. And we should celebrate that choice, which has a profound meaning of its own, without requiring him to be anything more than a 26-year old athlete and human being at the top of his game.