Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Can Richard Sherman Teach us About Cycling?

Richard Sherman's infamous post-game rant: Video here...

I'm dedicating the month of January to safety. And Richard Sherman is a Cornerback, not a Safety - so that's not the tie-in... nice try though. ;)

Even if you don't follow the NFL or aren't a football fan you have probably heard something about this story on the news or social media. The "rant heard 'round the world" has garnered quite a reaction (and an elevated profile for Mr. Sherman, which he certainly appreciates). And, all the cool bloggers are covering it, so I figured I'd jump into the fray! What's to lose? Right?

Is this a stretch? Nope, you'll soon see. Stick with me here...

In the interest of full disclosure: I have been a Seahawks fan for a solid 25 years; ever since I learned about the NFL - growing up in Boise, Idaho you either cheered for Seattle or Denver - and I'm quite stoked to see them both play in the "Big Game" this year.

That out of the way - there is actually a lot we can apply to our road and trail conduct when reflecting on society's knee-jerk reaction to Sherman's adrenaline-fueled comments at the end of the NFC Championship game versus San Francisco on January 19.

If you missed it: check the video link at the top; but Sherman is well known for his trash-talking and attention-grabbing behavior. He also happens to be a standout degree holding graduate of Stanford University, so don't paint him in the corner of being a loud-mouthed thug athlete. He's intelligent and much of his antics can be assumed to be quite calculated to be honest. However calculated or not - people often perceive him to be rather caustic when receiving isolated "sound-byte" doses of Sherman without the context of his background, personality, or achievements in life or a game situation. And THAT, my friends; is the tie in to our safety as cyclists.

Those with whom we share roads and trails with experience us as cyclists in isolated doses. Sound-bytes if you will. The real-world equivalent of the 15-second highlight clip you see on the evening news or social media. Drivers; runners and pedestrians; equestrians; and even other cyclists only see and hear what we do and say in those small, focused, isolated few seconds while we are crossing each other's path. How we conduct ourselves: what we say, how we say it, where we place ourselves on the road and - yes - our "gestures" and "body language" are received without context and they will react to them in kind.

Imagine yourself out for a stroll around town and you come to an intersection to see some guy strutting across the cross-walk and ranting intensely to some lady "I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're gonna get." (OK, now I'm stretching...but let's pretend, for the sake of the point...) How would you react?

Not favorably, I'm sure. Probably not a whole lot of grace, forgiveness, or understanding in your initial reaction. In fact, my reaction to Sherman's post game interview was negative - and I actually LIKE the guy!

And the thing is, before you have a real chance to digest exactly what happened and come up with a rational response; the moment is over, the people are gone, and you are left with your feelings about what happened. AND, those feelings will probably flavor how you perceive that individual - and pedestrians in cross walks at large - for quite some time; possibly until you are shown that pedestrians in cross walks can treat others with respect and decorum.

That is how others largely treat cyclists (and to be fair, runners too); based on the little "15 second highlight clip" they have experienced in the past. Clips like cyclists blowing through red lights and stop signs. Cutting off motorists and walkers. Riding on the wrong side of the street or the wrong way down a one-way. And let's not forget: yelling at or making rude gestures at other users of the road (justifiably or not...).

Sherman's rant was polarizing and will determine how many view the Seahawks at large going into the NFL Championship game and for seasons here-after. Many got very angry at him in the moment and made comments and threats they probably wish they hadn't now 72 hours later. But those can't be retracted. They happened and they're out there now.

Cyclists and others get run off the road, threatened, and otherwise harassed every day in every city. Sometimes justifiably, many times not. As much as I admire Richard Sherman's abilities on the field - don't be a "Sherman" on the road or trail. Look instead to someone like Russell Wilson - Seattle's star quarterback and all-around solid guy. Pay it forward, spread grace, and think of others first. We will all come out ahead that way.

Be good humans and truly "share the road". After all; that road goes both ways.

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