Richard Sherman signed with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason after spending his entire career in Seattle. In seven years as a dominant cornerback with the Seahawks, Sherman had 32 interceptions, went to the Pro Bowl four times, and was a three-time All-Pro selection. In Sherman’s fourth season with Seattle, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.
The Seahawks and the 49ers play in the same division, the NFC West, and the two teams have an important rivalry. Sherman played against the 49ers many times in highly contested games. During the 2013 NFC Championship game, he made a game-saving last-second tip to Malcolm Smith, who intercepted the ball, and led Seattle to the Super Bowl. For many players, the move from Seattle to San Francisco would be a tough change, but not for Sherman. He’s happy to be back in California with the 49ers.
I had the chance to talk to him on a beautiful summer day after a preseason practice. Still in his uniform, he seemed calm and relaxed despite just coming off the field. Sherman says his return to California felt familiar. "It’s a nice change," he says. "I enjoy the Bay Area. Obviously, the weather is always phenomenal."
Sherman went to college at Stanford, about 20 minutes from the 49ers' stadium, but he grew up in Compton, near Los Angeles. He likes learning from the people around him, and is close to his family. Along with his wife, his parents and his older brother are among his most important role models. Sherman described his parents as "just two hard-working people who made the best of a very difficult situation and really did everything they could for their kids."
At Dominguez High School in Compton, Sherman ran track. For the football team, he played receiver and cornerback. However, he was more into basketball growing up, especially while watching the Showtime-era Lakers. When he did watch football, he liked Warren Moon, Deion Sanders, and 49ers legend Jerry Rice.
Sherman follows a strict routine to mentally prepare for games. He treats every game equally whether it’s the preseason or the Super Bowl, because he says consistency helps him to execute at the highest level. His goal this season with the 49ers is simple: win. He doesn’t pay much attention to distractions like his Madden rating, although when I told him what it was—90—he felt it was too low.
In 2016, former Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick set off a broad protest against police brutality and racial injustice when he kneeled during the National Anthem. The players who protested, according to Sherman, "got their point across and got their message that they wanted out there. I think that there are a lot of problems in this country and those protests really exposed a lot of them."
Sherman cares a lot about justice, and giving back to the community is important to him. When he was young, he made a promise to himself that if he was ever in a position to help others, he would do so—and he has kept that promise. In 2013, he started an organization called Blanket Coverage - The Richard Sherman Family Foundation - to provide school supplies to kids in low-income communities. “There are kids that go to school every day and have to borrow pens and pencils and people wonder why they aren’t successful and wonder why a lot of kids don’t make it out of that environment, because it’s impossible,” Sherman says. “You know, you go to school, you gotta ask for a pen and pencil and beg every day. It’s tough on your psyche.” He advises kids who want to fight for justice to do their best even when it feels impossible: “You have to be clear with yourself about what you stand for, and never change that," he says. "Never waver from that. If you stand in belief of something, then believe in that. If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything."
Despite the rivalry between Seattle and San Francisco, Sherman says his new teammates on the 49ers "welcomed me with open arms." He already knew several players who also played for the Seahawks, such as Gary Gilliam, Cassius Marsh, Malcolm Smith, and Korey Toomer. Knowing the area has also made the transition easier. "I think it was great just knowing the area and knowing what I was getting myself into," he says. So far, none of his new teammates have pranked him. In fact, Sherman told me that as a veteran, he would be the one who would do the pranks. He hasn’t done any so far, but he pointed out that the season hasn’t even started yet.
Many fans will be excited to see how Sherman adjusts to a new team and a new environment. But when I spoke to him, he certainly seemed as ready as ever. “My goals are always to help my team win ball games,” he says. “And when you win, things happen.”
Top Photograph courtesy of Gus Bailey