Well, here we go again.
There’s no better headlines:
Good vs. evil.
Humble vs. loudmouthed.
The well-groomed quarterback vs. the cornerback with dreads.
And, lurking just beneath the surface, the undeniable racial overtones.
We all love an enticing matchup - it doesn’t get much better than one of the greatest QBs in NFL history taking on the best pass defender in the league with a title on the line - and inevitably will take sides.
Sure, they come from diverse backgrounds. Manning is the white son of privilege, an esteemed member of the NFL’s first family along with father Archie and brother Eli. Sherman grew up in the hardscrabble African-American neighborhood of Compton, a guy who surely had more obstacles to overcome to live out his dreams.
Given Manning’s lineage and position, it shouldn’t be a surprise he would take a road to fame that’s more in line with the league’s corporate image - careful with his words, slowly but surely expanding his brand, finally feeling comfortable enough to display an endearing goofiness with appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” that delightful “Football On Your Phone” commercial and the amusing Buick ad. He’s the poster child for the NFL, for corporate America - and, by extension, white America.
“The NFL is a powerful force in our nation’s cultural landscape precisely because it has done such an excellent job in monitoring and managing its image,” said Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University in Indiana. “The NFL’s marketing strategy is to keep the audience focused primarily on the game and the teams, and then allow the personalities of players and coaches to shine within that framework. This allows the game to stay popular even when charismatic players come and go.”
That said, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Sherman - a dozen years younger than Manning - would take a different tack in his quest for fame, one that’s very much as odds with the NFL’s buttoned-down image.
The cornerback may have graduated from Stanford with a degree in communications, but he was never going to be portrayed the same as Manning by the NFL’s marketing machine, by the folks on Madison Avenue - and, by extension, white America.
So Sherman veered toward a more in-your-face approach, epitomized by his 20-second throwdown of an interview with Fox’s Erin Andrews right after Seattle locked up the NFC championship thanks to his tipped pass in the end zone. His marketing methods may not be your cup of tea, but it has surely turned him into a household name and, in all likelihood, will lead to some off-the-field opportunities once the furor over his tasteless but ultimately harmless tirade fades away.