Sports, Column

COLUMN: There’s Nothing Wrong With Showing Some Personality

“…But he went to Stanford.”

That’s the irresponsible and painfully easy argument plenty of people have used in defense of Richard Sherman the last two weeks. The All-Pro safety for the Seattle Seahawks called out 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree in an excited and mildly aggressive post-game interview on Fox after the NFC Championship game-an interview that occurred minutes after he earned a trip to this weekend’s Super Bowl by making a game-saving deflection in the end zone.

He was called a monkey and a thug and worse. Fans and media members said he needed to show more class or better sportsmanship. They were full of crap, and they missed the point. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t stop there.

But he went to Stanford, some people cried in Sherman’s defense. He can’t be a thug, because Stanford men aren’t thugs. The interview and the trash talk must have been an act, because four years of a Stanford education doesn’t allow for such behavior without reason. We should give him a pass, they said, because the Stanford degree allows us to give him one. The fact that Sherman played football at one of the “academic institutions” gives him some sort of societally approved excuse to act out occasionally.

You could swap out Stanford for Boston College, and you’d have almost the same dumb argument, but it’s nearly impossible to find a former or current BC athlete who, even in brief moments, displays the same entertaining emotion as Sherman. They’re systemically trained not to, and maybe it’s not such a good thing.

The most interesting thing I’ve ever heard a BC athlete say in a press conference came from Chase Rettig near the end of the 2012 football season. Alex Amidon had just broken the BC single-season receiving record that night against Notre Dame, and Rettig was asked what he thought of Amidon’s performance throughout the season. Rettig had just been pummeled to the ground by the Irish in BC’s eighth loss of a miserable year. While his No. 1 target received praise for his breakout year, Rettig was constantly criticized for his decision-making and his inability to get the ball to different receivers, whether they were open or not.

“I think he has a good quarterback,” Rettig deadpanned expressionlessly, staring ahead.

There were a few soft chuckles in the room, most of which came from media members, but besides that the comment mainly elicited an awkward silence. Rettig had just gone off script. Sensing the unease, he shifted his remarks to credit Amidon, but it felt more out of formal necessity than anything else, when it wasn’t really necessary at all.

There’s a simple formula nearly every BC athlete sticks to when they’re on the record, especially after games. It’s humble, nondescript, and boring. They don’t share much, and when they do it’s often cliched maxims full of empty team concepts.
“It was just a good team win … I’ll do whatever the coaches ask … This was only one game … I don’t pay attention to that stuff.”

Putting the team first is a good thing, but the consistency and degree to which the team is automatically deferred makes some of the comments absurd and meaningless. That same mentality shows up in games too. It’s so rare to see any sort of even minor boastfulness or playful trash-talking in Conte or on Alumni. As Andre Williams, maybe the most popular BC athlete in the last few years, overpowered his way into the record books and the Heisman race last fall, he only allowed himself one moment of on-field indulgence.

In the fourth quarter against North Carolina State last November, Williams snapped Mike Cloud’s single-season rushing record in just 10 games. He then walked out onto the field a few yards after being beckoned by the PA announcer and the crowd. Williams-the embodiment of BC’s humble, quiet, and thoughtful ideal student-athlete in every other instance-conceded one helmetless bow with an appreciative smile shining across his long face.

It was a great moment, but also one that is too rare, because at BC boring is best. Any attempts to not be boring bring unnecessary risk-the same kind of dumb risk Sherman can create by being a human being with real emotions and personality quirks.

Williams didn’t do anything wrong. The running back consistently carried himself with a quiet confidence and thoughtfulness that came off as firmly genuine, even when the fame got a little crazy. But he shouldn’t have to be the model for everyone here. The mission of athletics at BC is to supplement the student-athlete’s education in the classroom with lessons that can only be taught on the field, court, or ice. One of those lessons is off, though.

There’s nothing wrong with having some fun and showing it. Sports are supposed to be fun and entertaining. Every ounce of bravado or showmanship isn’t inherently awful. There’s nothing wrong with a student-athlete speaking his or her mind and being, at least occasionally, blunt.

Being genuinely interesting shouldn’t be sacrificed for the simple benefit of being safe. There’s nothing wrong with cracking deadpan jokes. Some of the athletes here are legitimately hilarious, and they shouldn’t have to curb that aspect of their personality because it’d be easier on their coaches if that humor didn’t show on the field or in front of the media.

There’s nothing wrong with BC’s student-athletes just being themselves a little more often. They can be like Williams, quiet, humble, and thoughtful, or they can be something else entirely. They can be boisterous or funny or charismatic if that’s who they are. The thought that allowing that kind of behavior hurts the team or the department or the athlete is asinine, and more than anything else, it’s just boring.

January 30, 2014