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A few thoughts on Richard Sherman and how he continues to redefine Stanford

As goes All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, so goes his alma mater - whatever that might mean

Ezra Shaw

It's impossible to ignore Richard Sherman.

It's also impossible to talk about Richard Sherman without talking about Stanford. How many iterations of these arguments did you see last night?

In his defense, perhaps: "Sherman is crazy but he is definitely smart. I mean, he went to Stanford!"

In order to express indignation: "You think Sherman would show more class - guess nobody at Stanford taught him that."

Or showing off their rapier wit: "Richard Sherman. Making Stanford alums everywhere proud."

For some reason, he'll always be "Stanford's Richard Sherman," especially when he's set off commentary from all angles of the world when he exploded on "mediocre receiver" Michael Crabtree in the aftermath of Sunday's NFC Championship game.

Of course, if you've been following his career with any regularity, you probably weren't all that surprised at his behavior. He's always been somewhere north of outspoken.

If Richard Sherman's peacocking were just about him being a dick or an asshole [or whatever your preferred word is to describe it] then we might call it like this: Sherman's just kind of an asshole sometimes. But there's something about the fact that he went to and graduated from Stanford that seems to trip people up. It's inevitable that any commentary on Sherman will somehow involve his Stanford background.

Want to know the most-viewed article on this site in 2013? A pre-draft analysis of Richard Sherman from 2011. People are so consistently baffled or amused or infuriated by him that they want to go back in time and figure out just who on earth this guy is and where he came from. He's polarizing, complicated, hilarious, outspoken. He most certainly contains multitudes. And I don't think people don't know what to make of that.

By now, everyone knows Sherman grew up in Compton. Growing up in Compton is a box that people can mentally check so they can say - or at least pretend - that they understand you. Sherman went to Stanford. Graduating from Stanford is usually a box to be checked as well. At lot of people will make assumptions about who you are based on that fact.

But when you pair the two together, you get, well, Richard Sherman, the NFL's most vibrant peacock since Terrell Owens. (I find it fitting that peacocks are blue and silver and that same queasy lime green.)

Consider that Stanford is responsible for two of the most promising young talents in the NFL today - Andrew Luck and Richard Sherman - and they couldn't possibly be more dissimilar. Luck's media interactions are almost uncomfortably polite. He shoos praise as if it were a swarm of bees. Luck was an immensely hyped college player and anointed as a franchise savior before the NFL Draft . Sherman went on "First Take" to call himself the best corner in the NFL and contend that he was "better at life" than Skip Bayless. In college, Sherman was a player without a position who had a confusing (and sometimes straight-up bad) career and ended up being taken as a 5th-round flyer in the draft. Now, they are among the best at their positions in the league today, and they are yin and yang.

So is he, as an individual, that utterly incongruous with the idea of who a Stanford graduate is?

I don't think so. He worked his way out of a situation that consumes young men - a neighborhood where he couldn't even wear a Stanford shirt growing up, lest he be mistaken for a gang member - and has become extremely successful. And if I've learned anything watching and covering Stanford sports, it's that the athletes there are from diverse backgrounds and have incredibly different personalities. A place that's capable of producing Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Michael Thomas, Coby Fleener, Stepfan Taylor, and Shayne Skov is entirely capable of producing Richard Sherman.

So if you think the word "Stanford" means one thing, you're probably wrong, or not paying close enough attention, or maybe willfully ignorant. And Richard Sherman (and Andrew Luck and Jonathan Martin and Shayne Skov) continues to redefine what exactly that word means. Language is fluid. It changes to fit the space and time.

[Of course, it's worth providing the disclaimer that you don't have to blindly defend his behavior. Some extremely smart, extremely talented people are huge assholes - and sometimes extremely smart, talented people just act like huge assholes from time to time. Whenever he touts himself as the best corner in the NFL, perhaps the only appropriate response is from The Big Lebowski: "You're not wrong, Walter, you're just an asshole." At what point does acting like an asshole make you an asshole? That's not exactly clear.]

Could he stand to brag less or at least brag with a little more tact? Sure. Is his behavior somehow embarrassing for Stanford? I don't think so.

He's chosen the hard road of defining himself - something a lot people are unwilling to do - and part of that means taking the slings and arrows of the masses. I'm sure that even some of the people in his hometown who clowned on him for choosing to go to Stanford were wearing his jersey on Sunday. And I'm absolutely certain that some of the people who cheered him at Stanford now curse him with intense fury. He's smart enough and thick-skinned enough to handle all of it, even if he doesn't handle it with grace sometimes. He says so himself.

That's what I think he meant on Sunday when he told the camera to stop talking about him: He'll define who Richard Sherman is - and what Stanford is - on his own terms.