To Be Galactus: What It Feels Like To Be Richard Sherman

On becoming pure ego, which is even more thrilling and frightening than it sounds.
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Illustration by Arielle Davis.

It happened so fast, the stupid thing that has come to define Richard Sherman's brilliant and brief career. Less than a minute to go, and Colin Kaepernick, gold helmet and gold pants and golden, baroquely illustrated arm, launching a perfectly perfect pass to the corner of the Seahawks end zone; and Michael Crabtree, he of that regicidal catch; and then from the neon screaming chartreuse depths of the seahawk’s very eye comes Richard Sherman, springing, turning, delivering a shoryouken to San Francisco’s season, the right hand of God, the ball guided into the arms of a teammate, and that was that. Or, anyway, he made a great play and won his team the game.

And then here comes Erin Andrews, attempting to introduce some insight into veins engorged by adrenaline and testosterone—and one could imagine an Airbus A380 could power through Sherman’s veins at the time with no worry of wing-clipping—and Sherman barks out, in no uncertain terms and not quite in response to her question, that he is the greatest cornerback in the game. And furthermore, without a breath or a blink, direct to camera as if cutting a wrestling promo, that for San Francisco to challenge him, Richard Sherman—and with Crabtree, of all people—was foolish to the point of suicide. And Andrews just stands there, looking… well, like Erin Andrews, but also looking nonplussed, maybe? A bit taken aback? She asks a savvy, clarifying follow-up and Sherman does not clarify. He elaborates on his earlier points. The network cuts away.

Neither of these people did anything wrong, really. Andrews met the fate of most all sports media personalities who find themselves clambering along the slick walls of what the Good Doctor once referred to as “a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.” She's probably better than that, and probably doomed like most in her field to end up as statuary, spouting “Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” style platitudes. She did her job, and was just sort of there while Sherman did his. And I could hear them, from a mouse-infested apartment in Chicago, the responses to Sherman's bit. In a very particular way, I heard it, and it went something like: like locusts upon Egypt, pump action shotguns between pigeons, tcktcktcktcktcktcktcktcktckTCKTCKTCKTCKTCKTCKTCKTCK, the furious pecking of a million lesser chickens, barely able to see for their ruffled feathers, quick to chastise the rooster, to lay Sherman low out in the barn yard, to put that powerfully molded neck on the chopping block … thwack.*

And then came the reactions, the lashing and the push back against the lashing, the various vivisections, dissections, autopsies, thinkpieces on thinkpieces, personal relations, and—on one particularly excellent occasion—a warning against the trumpeting of Sherman’s massively impressive c.v., and specifically the fact that he went to Stanford, as a push back against the shameful "thug" accusations being laid against him. This was by Grantland's Rembert Browne, a Dartmouth graduate, who'd played the Ivory Tower card himself in the past and so was perfectly positioned to warn against this tricky defense and well aware of a future in which someone just as smart and deserving and great as Sherman will face the same accusations without the same bulletproof diploma. It's a good piece.

There were a bunch of good ones, and they arrived more or less instantaneously. We are on the downside of that now, thankfully. We can once again look at Richard Sherman as a football player. But maybe first, briefly, we can look at him not as a culture-war totem, but as the thing he purely was in that moment: ego, resplendent and bright and beautiful, lost in its own thrill. As it turns out, I know this feeling, and that amplitude.

***

We are not all that matters, not the center of the universe; to believe too strongly otherwise is to be labeled a solipsist, or a narcissist, or a sociopath, or in certain extreme money-related cases an Objectivist. We are taught this most basic level of humility mainly to prevent the wild careening toward the id—the instinctive MINE of every child—and to help us function as a society. We have to learn to share.

But, if we're going to have any big moments in our lives, we must also leave room for a healthy expression of the ego. College and job applications, screwing up the courage to ask someone out on a date, pulling someone from a car accident, entering a public place unafraid and unashamed: we need our egos for all that. No life is lived long or successfully without calling upon this, and few lives demand so much from an ego as those of a professional athlete.

Richard Sherman's job is one of the cruelest jobs in all of sports. He is isolated, again and again, against athletes of supernatural speed, size, and strength, and tasked with stopping them, these men who may as well be machines, from performing an action which only they know for sure, and which Richard Sherman—despite all that study and intelligence and acumen and old-fashioned instinct—will only ever be able to guess.

And he will inevitably fail at this. He will fail multiple times, in front of millions of eyes. He will line up against his charge, square his body and mind on the line, and face them down, the receivers and believers and detractors all at once, supremely confident that he will be victorious; he's this way because, were he not, he would already have lost. There is an old saying about cornerbacks, that the only two things they truly need to succeed are speed and a short memory. A robust ego is critical in both. There are no timid sprinters, and there are no humble cornerbacks. There can't be.

By the same token, there is some ego required of everyone aspiring to participate in the world in some significant way—firemen and cops and doctors and investment bankers and internet sportswriters. Different tasks, different gradations of ego, but all serving the same purpose: to make failure feel impossible, and so prevent it from being inevitable.

Most everything Richard Sherman or Kanye West or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Macklemore or Pope Benedict or Tom Brady or Damien Hirst or Chris Christie or Alex Rodriguez or Cat Marnell or Angela Merkel does of the public ken is used either to beatify or pillory them. For people who live in and above the public, every move has repercussions, plucks the spider’s signal threads. Imagine the last time you were chastised by a boss or a friend or a lover; remember the pain, the anguish, the shame, the guilt.

Now extrapolate this to an unimaginable scale, a literally international scale, and tell me you would not be smashed to pieces by unyielding waves of damnations and praises and thoughts offered about you by strangers. Yes, these are strangers; sure, they don't know you. But heavy is the head, and heavier still is the burden of the hugely famous. A huge buoyant pontoon of ego is the thing that keeps these people from being crushed under their own cultural weight. Also, Sherman is the only one of those above who will be asked how he feels immediately after his biggest triumphs.

***

I suffer from a rather severe case of bipolar disorder—yes, real bipolar disorder, with actual diagnoses and everything—and so live a somewhat dyadic existence. When I am normal, for lack of a better term, my ego is perhaps just a bit higher than the norm. I am, like everyone on Twitter, a public figure, although said public face barely extends beyond a thumbnail portrait and my name. But I believe in myself enough to throw my thoughts at the Internet, and to extend my judgment upon books and albums and art exhibitions. When I am manic, I am much more like that.

When I am depressed, I have no ego. I suffer its complete and utter lack. I struggle to get out of bed, just to exist. It is all too heavy and too much. This is how I know that loud desires for reticence in victory and the stern policing of jock humility—how often have you heard that some highly coveted position is a privilege, not a right?—are appearance-keeping huff and puff and nothing more. I have awakened with no ego, just barely and in great pain. It is not a thing I'd wish on anyone.

But mania! Oh fucking good Lord God, when the manic swings come along? Then I am Everything. I fight tears of euphoria; I am sexuality personified, intelligence and wit made manifest; I am the light in the darkness and the darkness. I am, and this is very clear, the Greatest Writer Who Has Ever Lived. I am beyond Richard Sherman, beyond even Kanye West. The air is thin up there, and intoxicating. When I am there, I am nothing but ego, no filters, no public relations inhibitions and machinations. It is like living in a Tom Wolfe paragraph—one of those hot, buzzing, electric, alive, incandescent neon tube buzzing pink paragraphs—or, if the mania tacks darker, a Bret Easton Ellis run on. I place upon my head that ludicrous plumb teapot of a helmet that Galactus wears, and the Universe is mine, to hold, to crush, to devour, to effect myself upon.

It is a feeling unlike any other, and how I imagine Sherman must have felt, launching into the Pacific Northwest night and batting away the sporting universe with his hand. In that moment, who would not feel like Randy Savage, who would not let that ego, which helped to lift him from Compton and into the way of that pass and so onto that sideline with Erin Andrews, come out and play? Do you know how good it feels, to yell into existence and feel that you have been heard, let alone reciprocated? I know this feeling, when I am not myself. There is no reasoning with it.

But it is not much more mad than demanding the purest sangfroid from our public figures when they are in that place above and outside themselves. We demand they win, but not make others suffer; we demand they be our betters, but beg us our graces. What we demand are not roosters, but mighty Chanticleer. Who are we to complain when Chanticleer crows? 

* In an attempt to replicate how my writing sounds when I'm manic, the first two paragraphs of this story were originally one single 384 word sentence. (This happens to be a pretty good performance of ego, too.) It went: 

"Less than a minute to go, and here’s Colin Kaepernick, all golden helmet and golden pants and golden, exquisitely carved, baroquely illustrated arm, pulling back, launching, football leaping from his arm to the corner of the Seahawks end zone, and Michael Crabtree, he of the regicidal catch, as if from a transformer to a coat hanger, a fast, tight, beautiful, Platonic ideal football pass, and from the neon screaming chartreuse depths of the seahawk’s very eye comes Richard Sherman, springing, turning, delivering a shoryouken to San Francisco’s season, the right hand of God, plucking the very heart out of the Bay, and then here comes Erin Andrews, attempting, as sideline reporters are wont to do, to inject a bit of analytical reasoning into veins positively engorged by adrenaline and testosterone, and one could imagine an Airbus A380 could power through Sherman’s veins at the time with no worry of wing clipping, and he barks out, in no uncertain terms, that he is the greatest cornerback in the game, that for San Francisco to challenge him, Richard Sherman, and with Crabtree, of all people, was foolish to the point of suicide, and Andrews just stands there, looking … looking nonplussed, maybe? a bit taken aback? mostly like nothing, really—and this is the fate of most all sports media personalities who find themselves clambering along the slick walls of what the good doctor once referred to as “a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason,” (which, as prescient as said description came to be, is even more apt when applied to the great, sweeping, brackish, chicken bone filled and crab infested swashes of the internet) to end up as statuary, spouting “Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” style platitudes, being pretty little objets, in the cruel case of most women, or frothy, demented jabbering heads, like Andross from StarFox64 or Skip Bayless—and I could hear them, from a mouse infested apartment in Chicago, hear them like locusts upon Egypt, pump action shotguns between pigeons, tcktcktcktcktcktcktcktcktckTCKTCKTCKTCKTCKTCKTCKTCK, the furious pecking of a million lesser chickens, barely able to see for their ruffled feathers, quick to chastise the rooster, to lay Sherman low out in the barn yard, to put that powerfully molded neck on the chopping block …thwack."

 

 

 

 

 


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