On the left forearm of Swiss tennis star Stanislas Wawrinka there is a bold tattoo that is an actual quotation from the famed Irish novelist Samuel Beckett. It reads, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
So let that settle in your mind as I tell you that on Tuesday afternoon I watched a replay of an epic match between Wawrinka and three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Djokovic had beaten Wawrinka 14 straight times, including a thriller that lasted over five hours in Australia last year, but this week the gritty 28-year-old Wawrinka hung on with the fervor of a bulldog to finally win, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7.
After the match a reporter thrust a live microphone into the fallen Djokovic’s face and the great champion calmly said, “Unfortunately, somebody has to lose in the end. This year it was me. I lost to a better player.”
Now let’s switch to Sunday night, in the first minutes after Seattle’s rousing 23-17 win over San Francisco in the NFC championship game. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made a sensational play at the end, deflecting 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's pass in the end zone but was penalized for taunting.
To make it worse, the madness continued in a sideline interview with Fox Sports Erin Andrews, "I'm the best cornerback in the game!" he screamed during the post-game sideline 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!"
The bewildered Andrews asked, "Who was talking about you?"
"Crabtree!" Sherman angrily shouted. "Don't you open your mouth about the best, or I'm going to shut it for you real quick."
It’s not lost on me that Sherman has become a media sensation this week while hardly any school kids across our entire country can pronounce the name of either tennis player. Sherman has been both applauded and vilified for his remarks. He has also apologized, defended, explained and accepted his actions, telling us that it is just a glimpse of who he really is.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our nation’s young and old alike are influenced by what we see in the world of sports. The games hopefully teach us to play by the rules but the actions of our athletes and coaches show us how to act. I can only imagine if Sherman’s behavior was mirrored in some middle-school classroom or in a grocery store checkout line after Sunday’s game.
Marketing experts say Sherman made a name for himself and NFLShop.com reports that his Seattle jersey, No. 25, is now among its Top Ten best sellers. He has maintained a grip on the media, focusing more on his dreadlocks than the fact he was an honors student throughout high school and college at Stanford. Suddenly he’s a big part of the build-up towards next Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII.
Thankfully, the No. 1 bestselling jersey at NFLShop.com this week is Peyton Manning’s No. 18, which is on half of the covers of Sports Illustrated this week. Peyton has been on the magazine’s cover quite a bit. The other half of this week’s magazine covers will prove a last-minute decision was made. Richard Sherman will be shown for the first time.
Sherman claims to be astounded by the vicious reaction to his tirade “People find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me,’’ he told thirsty reporters.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick also got caught up in the ire, not because he said it was his fault the 49ers lost but because he wore his hat backwards and had his headphones draped around his neck in a way many critics felt was hardly befitting a winning quarterback. “If you look like a jerk you’ll play like one,” one 49er tweeted.
In the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave we should never try to legislate being nice or having manners but I think professional athletics should urge our heroes to recognize they have a great influence on the eyes and hearts of those who watch them. Starting this week people are going to watch Richard Sherman as never before. My hope is that he will soon hold himself accountable for his actions.
Maybe tennis pros Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic are available for lessons.