Many of you saw Richard Sherman’s post-game interview with Erin Andrews on Sunday night, shortly after battering a pass intended for the 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree that ended up saving the game for Seattle. Today, I want to talk about the professional and economic consequences of doing something like Sherman did in the public eye.
On the professional end with his job, Richard Sherman now has to deal with players that are going to be extra-motivated to take him down. Peyton Manning is already laser-focused at studying video footage in the game room, but he might be able to find that extra few percentage points of precision by studying Sherman just a little bit harder than he might otherwise have.
All the people that Sherman has publicly mocked—Tom Brady, Michael Crabtree, Colin Kaepernick, and the others that I have not specifically followed all that closely—will now have extra motivation when they go up against him. Of course, Sherman could very well come up with the big play and continue to get the last laugh like he did on Sunday night. From a career strategy perspective, Sherman is making it harder on himself than is necessary by incentivizing his competition—his trash-talking has the realistic possibility of increasing the level of play that his competition brings to the table, making it more difficult for him to accomplish his objective of winning.
Not that long ago, I attended a conference in which the principal speaker was one of the best medical malpractice attorneys in St. Louis’s history. He’s the kind of guy that not only wins his cases, but receives rewards from juries even in excess of the amounts that he requests (he has been so successful that the Missouri legislature has chosen to enact statutes to limit the amount of money that can be rewarded in a case involving medical malpractice claims). The cases in rapid succession that triggered the statute limiting medical malpractice claims was the lawyer equivalent of when the Commissioner’s Office of Major League Baseball lowered the mound from fifteen inches to ten inches following Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA season in 1968.
After his speech, he was quickly surrounded by seven or eight people that had attended the conference. But I did get a chance to talk to one of his colleagues. And I asked him, “Besides the obvious, what do you think has been the key to his success in the courtroom over the past four decades?” And the answer I received? People don’t get upset losing to him. If you are good at what you do, prepare diligently, give it everything you got, and win graciously, people can make peace with defeat. If he had walked out of the court-room trashing his opponents for missing obvious objections, counting $100 bills, and filled his laptop with pictures of contemplated vacation destinations after receiving his one-third cut, he would probably be increasing the likelihood of future defeat because he would be putting a bullseye on his back for when he met those opposing lawyers again. It is a self-destructive habit to give talented people incentives to take you down.
The economic consequences of Richard Sherman’s boisterous post-game interview is more difficult to determine. On one hand, he probably alienated some advertisers and companies from doing business with him. On the other hand, he has taken a page out of the Muhammad Ali playbook to grab attention and raise his profile.
My guess is that outburst of emotion as seen in his post-game interview will be financially beneficial to him if he performs well and the Seahawks win. Muhammad Ali’s arrogance and hubris worked for him because he won. John McEnroe’s angry tirades allowed him to receive great sponsorship deals because he won Wimbledon in 1981, 1983, and 1984, and the U.S. Open in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1984. If the Seahawks win the Super Bowl and Sherman comes up big, he could be one of the few cornerbacks in NFL history to become a household name and he could reap significant financial benefits from that if he finds the commercial route appealing.
Gene Bedell’s work, “The Millionaire In The Mirror”, highlighted the fact that high-performing individuals often make the mistake of needlessly alienating people around them. Because they have money, because they can play a sport, because they can dominate a profession, or because they are famous, they think they possess the right to treat others with disrespect. The negative consequences of this are obvious: building trust and getting people to like you are the foundation points of all relationships. It’s more important than anything else.
Heck, I can even see that play out on a small-level, just by writing finance articles. There are some people in the personal finance community that I’ve built great relationships with, and I could write a post talking about how much fun it is to count from ten to one backwards, and they would say, “Nice job!” Similarly, I interact with people that don’t particularly like me, and almost all of my interactions with them are shaded through a negative or critical lens. If I have a typo, errant sentence, or inconsistent thought in one of my articles, they’ll be sure to let me know. The orientation that people have towards you matters a great deal—the same qualities you find endearing in people you like might be something you mock when possessed by people you don’t. Getting people to “root for you” rather than “against you” is something to conscientiously think about in all of your interactions, even if you think the relationship exists purely for business purposes.
In the case of Sherman’s trash-talking, his interview is the equivalent of investing with leverage. If things go well and he wins and continues to come up with big plays, he will have the ESPN cameras shine an extra-nice spotlight on him principally because he is so outspoken. But if the Seahawks pick up the habit of losing and Sherman loses a step or two and can’t perform, he will endure extra ridicule. Trash-talking and then not successfully backing it up is not a good place to be financially, socially, or personally.