By Richard Neer
WFAN, New York
Talk Show Host
Unfortunately, that’s what many of us are doing. Let me explain the analogy.
Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks won the lottery. His rant after the NFC championship game hit all the viral markers: it was loud, it was outrageous and it reached a huge audience at exactly the right time. Sherman went from a fine-but-obscure cornerback to a national figure literally overnight. Blogs, tweets, Facebook pages and every other form of social media either supported or vilified him. The fame he achieved might last the traditional fifteen minutes, or with clever marketing, catapult his off-field career to new heights.
Every day, many of us practice what Sherman did. We are loud, obnoxious, and outrageous, bending social norms in search of fame and fortune. We claim not to care what people think of us. We self righteously state that no matter how good you are, not everyone is going to like you. Our cop out is the well worn phrase, “I’m just being myself. I can’t be anybody else.” That phrase translates to —– “myself” is perfect and I neither aspire or hope to be better. Really?
Sherman will have a career in the NFL as long as he plays at a high level. He’s a smart guy who realizes that one play could effectively end his usefulness in the league, but as long as he adds value to a team, he’ll have a job. NFL coaches and GMs may not like the drama he brings, but as long as he shuts down top receivers, he’ll find a place in the sport. But the minute he doesn’t, he’d better hope that his act plays well on TV over the long haul or he’ll be forgotten just as quickly.
Likewise, our livelihoods are based on how many dollars we bring in for our respective companies. But unlike Sherman, we need to be liked. Our audience has to like us to listen on a consistent basis.
But, you may reply, look at the “men they love to hate” — the Howard Cosells of the world. Exactly how many of those people can you name off the top of your head? The put-down artists, the media trash talkers who make a living as equal opportunity offenders by spewing venom.
If you are talented or lucky enough to win that lottery by catching the public imagination at precisely the right moment, you can thrive by being what polite society deems “uncivil.” But you’re treading a narrow line and making a lot of enemies in the process. One misstep could end your career as suddenly as a torn ACL could end Sherman’s.
You also may be encouraging the type of fan behavior we see in those obsequious headphone commercials, where angry mobs hurl invectives and lumber at the team bus. Of course, if something ugly happens, you can disavow these actions and hide behind the idea that you are only an entertainer and that a few deranged listeners took your words too literally, when they were only meant in jest.
Sportsmanship used to mean that you should be a gracious winner and a good loser. Sadly, some sportstalkers have posited that a good loser is still a loser. It used to be considered bad form to kick a man (team) when he’s down. Now, it’s considered “bragging rights.”
And even winners are not immune. Peyton Manning has not fully overcome the label of “playoff choker.” He had been castigated as one who couldn’t win the big game and when he finally did win, critics scoffed that he’d only won it once. In his case, the bar has continually risen to the point where no mortal could succeed. Forgotten is the fact that 52 other players are factors in determining the outcome.
There are ways to stir up controversy without resorting to crude slanders and trash talk designed to incite an equally vicious response. But since there is so much noise out there, the idea that you can rise above it by yelling even louder is akin to hitting the lottery. Great public speakers have long understood that sometimes a quiet voice that people strain to hear may attract more attention than screaming. And the articulate, well reasoned argument can hold more traction than the automatic gainsaying of the opposing view in the crudest terms possible.
Richard Neer is a sports talk host at WFAN, New York and an anchor on A Touch of Grey. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.