RENTON, Wash. (AP) — The places and ways to escape were simpler not that long ago.
When Richard Sherman could go unrecognized in public. When his dreadlocks might bring a curious glance and be forgotten just as quickly. When he was still mostly overlooked, the same way he ended up being bypassed in the NFL draft until the fifth round.
"It's difficult at times. It's more frustrating at times," the star cornerback says about that anonymity being gone. "When you're at dinner with your family or you're just trying to be out hanging out on vacation and you can't just sit there and sit on the boat without people driving up to the boat, constantly trying to take pictures and then them calling you rude because you say you just want to relax and be on vacation for a second.
"It gets to be a bit much when you lose your personal time."
This is the world that Sherman has chosen. Where he's gone from being largely overlooked coming out of Stanford, to being one of the most polarizing figures in the NFL. There isn't much of a middle ground with Sherman. He is either loved for a style that borders on cockiness, or he is despised for the same reason.
It's a difficult space to navigate for someone 26 and suddenly flush with money after signing a $56 million contract extension.
So there are times when Sherman must escape what he's created. Often it's as simple as locking himself in a room and playing video games for a few hours, or hanging out with his girlfriend and watching a movie.
The games are an escape from The Game. A way for Sherman to get lost in something, anything other than the hoopla that surrounds him.
"I really put time in it, I focus on it. I cut my phone off. Nobody comes and bothers me when I play my games," Sherman said. "It allows you to clear your head for a while, and when it's time to get back to work it's time to get back to work."
Football fans were already well-aware of Sherman before Jan. 19. With one loud, passionate, emotion-filled postgame interview with Erin Andrews, Sherman became must-see TV beyond the sports channels. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all cut into live programing to show his next news conference. It was the biggest play of his career and sent Seattle to the Super Bowl, but people wanted to talk more about the interview.
Sherman was buzzy. Advertisers were drawn to his colorful personality and name recognition equal to any professional athlete. He landed on the cover of the biggest sports video game on the market.
Distraction is easy. Keeping on course is now Sherman's biggest challenge.
"For him, football is the root of everything. So you have to always stay focused on that — first and foremost — and surround yourself with people in other areas that can support that vision," said Kobe Bryant, who participated in Sherman's charity softball event. "But you can't get distracted from that. You have to stay focused on what got you there because that is the root of everything.
"As long as you stay centered on that and hire very talented people around you to manage areas that are important to you then you'll be absolutely fine."
This is what Sherman is learning: balance. His on-field persona bubbles with bravado. Away from the field, friends describe Sherman as the opposite. The conflict comes when the worlds collide and when people assume Sherman's personality is what they see on the field.
"You've got this person who is so passionate for the game of football and he displays that every time he steps out on the football field, but when he's off the field he's this (big) Teddy bear," teammate Doug Baldwin said.
"But the persona that obviously the fans that see him on the field, gives him this negative persona because he is high intensity, which he has always been. I can see it at times and I know sometimes it gets to him, bothers him a little bit, but he's extremely mentally tough where he can handle those situations with ease."
It's July 4th weekend, and as they have for the past few summers, Sherman and some of his teammates jet across the Cascade Mountains to the resort town of Chelan. Brother time, as Kam Chancellor calls it.
When they were first thrown together in Seattle, that bonding time took place on the basketball court at a local fitness center. Playing hoops was the baseline for a relationship that has helped create the best secondary in the NFL.
"We go to battle on the field and we know each other on the field and we know where we're supposed to be on the field and each other's responsibility, but when you take it to something greater than that and knowing someone as a person, someone as a brother and understand where they're coming from and their thoughts and their generalization on things you really figure them out and get close to them," Chancellor said. "That's what we create when we go on trips."
Now that time is spent in sunny Central Washington during one of the busiest weekends of the year for the tourist community. Sherman and Chancellor no longer go unnoticed. Their public waits. On the water, their boats and jet skis are surrounded by fans snapping photos that instantly end up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
"I talked to Andrew Luck and he said he went to Europe and he finally got to walk around with no hood or no hat on and had a good time. Nobody had any idea who he was," Sherman said. "It's just a sense of freedom to relax and hang out and not have to worry about people constantly taking pictures or filming what you do."
Let's not forget, Sherman is at least partly responsible for the public's perception and the attention he receives. In the midst of putting together one of the best two-year stretches for any cornerback in NFL history with 16 interceptions and 40 passes defensed, Sherman added provocation to his performance.
In various ways, Sherman called out Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Roddy White, Patrick Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Trent Williams, Jim Harbaugh — well, it's a long list — in a variety of media. Was it necessary? What good did it do?
He could have kept quiet. He could have remained humble and sportsmanlike and adhered to the notion of never riling up an opponent — all those code words coaches try to use in muzzling headstrong, mouth-strong personalities.
But that would go against the tide of Sherman's personality since he was a kid. It isn't about to change.
"He never bit his tongue," said Seattle teammate Jeron Johnson, who first became friends with Sherman at age 13. "That's Richard. That's Richard Sherman. He hasn't changed a bit."
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