How Richard Sherman's unconventional path led him from streets to NFL


The kids were watching. They might not have known exactly what they were seeing from their parents. But what they saw, they would come to recognize as normal, expected behavior.

This is how people treat each other. And more than 25 years later, those experiences are at the center of what shaped them.

Jim was a retired railroad worker. He lived across the street from the Sherman family at the corner of Clovis and 93rd streets in South Central Los Angeles.

The Shermans never knew exactly what they would see outside their home at any hour of the day or night. But Jim, living in his white station wagon packed with his belongings, was a constant for years.

"If he saw us doing something bad or out too late, or going to places we shouldn’t be going, he’d come out and say, 'Hey, get your behinds home right now, or I’ll let your parents know,' " Richard Sherman recalled.

"We knew that he had just as much authority as our parents, and if we got in trouble with him, we were in trouble with our parents."

Richard Sherman, now 31, fully realizes things could have turned out differently. Why he ended up differently, he said, is a direct reflection on his parents and the values they instilled in him.

He is playing his ninth NFL season, and his second with the 49ers. He is one of the best cornerbacks of his generation. He has earned four Pro Bowl trips and three first-team All-Pro awards, and was a Super Bowl champion during his seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.

Those accomplishments are impressive, no doubt. But this isn’t so much a story about how an athletically gifted teen ended up as an NFL star. It’s about the unconventional path he took out of a rough neighborhood and into one of the country’s most prestigious universities.

He is a product of his environment -- the good and the bad -- and was shaped by the people and support around him. He thrives being in the center of chaos. He seeks motivation in the form of slights -- real or perceived -- to ignite his already combustible urge for competition and to achieve the upper hand.

Whether it's a local Pop Warner star, Jim Harbaugh, Michael Crabtree, Tom Brady, Baker Mayfield or the next person with whom he experiences a rift, Sherman seems to always find a way to channel his passion and personal conflicts into performance and production.

His competitive nature was evident in the classroom, too.

The Manuel Dominguez High School class of 2006 got it correct when Sherman was selected “Most Likely to Succeed.” He finished No. 2 in the class of 420 with a 4.1 GPA. He likely did not need an NFL career to make that class favorite title prophetic.

“Nine times out of 10, kids try to make it out through sports, and that wasn’t necessarily the case for him,” said cousin Emily Raby, 34. “Richard did it through school. Sports was a bonus. He’s a success story no matter how you look at it.”

Mom and Dad, Auntie and Unc

Beverly and Kevin Sherman show off their son Richard's room in their Yorba Linda home (Photo by Matt Maiocco / NBC Sports Bay Area)

Kevin and Beverly Sherman are the parents of Branton, Richard and Kristyna. Each of their children are 3 years apart in age. Kevin and Beverly are many things to many people. To most, they’re known simply as “Unc” and “Auntie.”

“Everybody calls them Auntie and Unc for a reason,” said Jeron Johnson, a friend and high school teammate who played with Sherman on the Seahawks, too. “If you ever need them, they are there for you.”

Kevin, the son of a mason, had an interest in building, rebuilding and repairing machinery and devices. Richard still talks about how his father can take parts from three different non-functioning computers and turn them into one that is fully operational.

Kevin lost his right eye as a 14-year-old when the go-kart he was building blew up in his face. That did not deter him from continuing to work with machinery.

Kevin attended Crenshaw High School in LA, and was living at 88th and Orchard when he took a particular interest in twin sisters La Ronda and La Tonya. He was like a big brother to the girls, regularly cajoling them to stop goofing around and get to school on time.

The girls introduced their older sister, Beverly, to this paternal figure in the neighborhood. Kevin and Beverly were married on Feb. 14, 1987.

Both knew the value of education, and ended up attending trade schools. Beverly spent 32 years working for the County of Los Angeles, finishing her career in California Children Services, where she worked with the families of children with serious medical and disabling conditions.

Kevin worked for the City of Los Angeles for three years as a tree trimmer and 27 years as a refuse collector truck operator. He was up and out of the house at 3:45 a.m., which enabled him to spend his afternoons coaching sports -- beginning at the youth level and into high school.

“The way Kevin coached us is the way he raised their kids,” Iban Ahumada said of his first Little League coach. “He was very disciplined, but I never thought of him as a strict person. We always had fun.”

Kevin retired four years ago, and now owns a trucking company. Four of his six employees are family members. While Kevin is laid-back and soft-spoken. Beverly exudes energy, enthusiasm and passion in everything she does -- just like Richard.

“Some of his high personality, his passion, is from her,” Kevin said. “This is the only lady I know who will scream and holler until she can’t talk any more from watching her son play. And not only is she rooting for her son but everyone else on the team. Her adrenaline at the beginning of the game is almost as high as his.”

After their son signed a lucrative contract extension with the Seahawks in May 2014, he moved his parents into a 7,100-square foot home in the Orange County community of Yorba Linda, not far from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Each of their three children has a bedroom, though they are rarely used. Branton and his wife, Allison, own a home in Covina. Kristyna lives in the Los Angeles area. Richard makes his offseason home in the Seattle area with his wife, Ashley, and their two young children.

Beverly’s eldest sister, Brenda, lives in the 1,400-square-foot guest house with her door opening to the spacious backyard and pool.

The upstairs game room is decked out with sports memorabilia, including Richard’s signed helmets from Stanford, Seattle and the 49ers. His father remarks at how his son's signature has changed through the years. The walls on the hallways are lined with family photos. There is a pile of toys and play things in the corner of the downstairs living room for their five grandchildren.

Script on the wall near the kitchen reads:

Life is too short
Live every minute with love in your heart

“He had two great parents who worked hard,” said Keith Donnerson, who coached Branton and Richard at Dominguez High. “Every time you go over to their house, you saw new people you hadn’t seen before. They always helped everybody. Rich was involved in that. He understands the true meaning of family and hard work.”

At home at the park

Beverly and Felicia Crummie peer out over the baseball field at Will Rogers Park, just 6.5 miles from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Richard and his 49ers teammates will play Sunday against the Rams.

The women look toward the tennis courts to the north along Century Boulevard, where Venus and Serena Williams played as youngsters. Right here is where Beverly first saw her young son’s passion -- and quick temper -- when he was told, at 3½, that he couldn’t play T-ball because he had to be 4 years old. He angrily stomped around, swinging around the little blue bat that his mom purchased for him.

It was on that field where the two women coached the park’s 1992 Super Bowl flag-football champion Dolphins. Branton, Felicia’s son Darryll and Bobo Montgomery were on that team. Richard was the team mascot.

“We as coaches, team moms, we did this to keep these kids off the streets, gang-banging and doing things they shouldn’t do,” Felicia said. “We kept them involved. This was like home for them. A lot of beautiful things transpired out of this.”

Every weekend -- all day, every season, it seemed, anyway -- the Shermans and their friends could be found at Will Rogers Park playing, coaching, organizing and socializing around flag football, baseball and basketball.

Richard Sherman can point to the scars that remain visible on his eyebrows from the time he ran into the chain-link fence by the dugout.

A lot has changed in this neighborhood since that time. Gone are the well-run leagues that created such a positive impact on the youngsters. Even the park’s name has changed. It’s now Ted Watkins Memorial Park, though it will always be Will Rogers Park to those who look back fondly on the time spent here as the formative years of their childhoods, their lives.

South Central Avenue runs along the west side of the park. On the east side is Success Avenue. There is something fitting about that.

“We had a great time growing up at that park,” Branton said. “Every single season, we were involved in youth sports. That was the foundation of getting us off the ground in youth sports.”

'The Big House'

Nearly 30 years ago, the Shermans bought their first house at 93rd and Stanford, just blocks from Watts. Several years later, they moved a couple blocks east on 93rd -- just a two-minute drive from Will Rogers Park.

It became common for the teams and their families to head over to the Shermans’ place -- “The Big House,” as everyone called it -- to splash around in the small, rubber backyard pools, skate, watch movies and enjoy barbecue. On more than one occasion, they had to rush back to the park to get young Richard, who was doing his own thing and did not get into one of the many cars going to the house.

The Big House and the neighborhood presented a dichotomy that became more obvious as the children grew older. Inside was a sanctuary that in no way resembled life outside those doors. Beverly kept her house immaculate, and the family was not lacking for the necessities. There was food in the refrigerator, clean clothes and a lot of love.

“There was always something going on in that neighborhood,” Raby said. “There were addicts and gang members. But in that house, you weren’t so sheltered from it, but in a sense, you were.”

Kevin and Beverly did not keep their children locked up in the house. They created a sense of kinship with the people who were less fortunate just outside their front door.

“There’s violence everywhere,” Kevin said. “Our neighborhood maybe had a little more than others. Our kids saw all of that. In return, those people we call friends are helping us teach our kids the ins and outs of what is not to be done out here. The streets have a different way of life, so we want to make sure you know both sides.

“We want you to know both sides so you can interpret it for yourself.”

The most-threatening situations that Richard and his friend, Darryll, separately experienced were not in their own neighborhoods. Richard returned home during his sophomore year at Stanford and attended a party in Pasadena, during which gunfire erupted. Sherman took cover behind a car and was not harmed. In another incident, Darryll was shot in West Los Angeles.

Those incidents reinforced their belief that, potentially, there is good and bad in every neighborhood.

“It can happen anywhere,” Crummie said. “You got to pick and choose where you go, and there are certain things you have to abide by to make sure you’re safe.”

The Shermans knew their surroundings. They were well-known within the neighborhood, too. They were quick to offer someone a meal or send their kids to take a warm blanket or dinner to Jim’s car. They never put themselves above anyone else, and in return, their lives also were enriched.

Jim, whose whereabouts now are unknown, had a pension from the railroad. He was not forced to be homeless. It was his choice.

“The inner city and the ghetto were pretty much all I knew in life, besides what I saw on TV,” Branton said. “It was fairly normal to walk by every day and see Jim in his station wagon. The neighborhood took care of him. He was an extremely wise old man. He had a lot of knowledge and wisdom. He would stand there and talk to us about life. I thought that was very normal until I reached adulthood.”

The Sherman kids also grew up thinking it was normal to not look down on others because of their life choices and circumstances.

“There were homeless people, stray dogs, people drugged out all over the place,” Richard said. “But my parents treated people with such respect all the time. It didn’t matter if you were a bum who lived across the street in a car, or if you were on drugs and homeless and just walking around the neighborhood. They treated everyone as equals.”

Focused from the start

The Manuel Dominguez High School class of 2006 selected Sherman (middle left) as “Most Likely to Succeed.”

Richard Sherman never was interested in conforming.

“He had his own little world going on,” said Veretta Elmore, whose son, Jason President, was friends with the Shermans. “He just knew what he wanted from the time he was young. He’d be in the basement, and he didn’t care if anyone was down there. He’d go outside and play on the swings, and then come back in.”

One day, when Sherman was in junior high, Elmore found herself alone with him and asked what he wanted to be. Of course, he’d say he wanted to be a professional athlete, she figured.

Instead, he told her that he wanted to be a businessman.

“You don’t hear that from kids,” Elmore said. “I said, ‘Oh, you want to be a businessman? Hmmm, OK.’ ”

While his brother was into fashion and wearing nice clothes, Richard more likely was to be found wearing sweats and Homer Simpson slippers.

“I loved those slippers,” he said. “They freakin’ broke my senior year. I was heartbroken.”

Outside of athletics, Sherman had his own unique interests. He devoured Harry Potter novels and dragged Darryll to Pokemon tournaments.

“It wasn’t the coolest thing,” Crummie said.

Said Elmore: “Everybody was girl crazy in their early teens. Richard was more focused.”

Bobo Montgomery vividly remembers one coming-of-age moment for his friend. It was at a party at the residence they dubbed “The Presidents’ House” for Elmore’s son, Jason.

One teenage girl apparently decided Richard needed to find more interests in life than sports, school, Ninja Turtles and the Discovery Channel.

“Richard got his first lap dance,” Montgomery said. “You would’ve thought he won the lotto -- the smile on his face.”

All class in the classroom

Manuel Dominguez High School features a mural of three famous athlete graduates (from left to right) -- Tayshaun Prince, Tyson Chandler and Richard Sherman (Photo by Matt Maiocco / NBC Sports Bay Area)

There are many misconceptions about life in the inner city. The first point those who live there want to make is that nobody’s life is destined to turn out a certain way just because of the environment in which they grow up.

“When you think of Watts and Compton, all you think about are gangs and killings,” Crummie said. “It was right there in our face every day. As soon as we woke up, there was gang violence or gang-bangers trying to get us to join or do all types of things that can stray you away from your path.

“It’s the choices you make. Good character comes out of here as well.”

Sherman’s dad knew from an early age that Richard had unique intelligence when he’d ask him to retrieve a tool from elsewhere in the shop. Richard would take direction and promptly return with exactly what his father had described.

Richard was committed to excelling in school and sports, and his friends respected that side of him.

“You might think people in the inner city would look down on grades,” Montgomery said, “but in the classroom, you knew: Don’t bother Richard. Richard was not going to talk to you in class. He’s going to do his schoolwork.”

Said Crummie: “He made it cool to go to school and do well in class.”

The Shermans moved from South Central LA to North Long Beach, and enrolled Branton and Richard in Dominguez High School. It was known as a basketball school, sending such players as Tayshaun Prince and Tyson Chandler on their way to long NBA careers.

Despite both parents working good jobs, the Shermans made it known to their children that they likely would not have the resources to afford four-year college educations. Athletic scholarships were a big part of the solution toward finding a way out.

Dominguez turned into a football school. Many of the key players from those teams honed their skills at an early age at Will Rogers Park and Athens Park, where they played the majority of their time in the L.A. Sheriff Packers Pop Warner Football Organization.

Dominguez won the 2005 Division I Southern Section championship and sent 12 football players to Division I schools, Donnerson said. Sherman motivated his teammates to perform in the classroom in a style that was uniquely his own.

“We’d get on the field, and he’d say, ‘I’m going to love coming to watch you play in junior college,’ ” his high school coach said.

That was Sherman’s way of inspiring his teammates to take care of business in the classroom in order to qualify for a four-year school.

“He likes to create a little chaos,” said Johnson, who went on to Boise State before embarking on a six-year NFL career. “That’s his way of motivating people. He talks his mess, makes you mad so you can try to do something about it, and challenge him back.”

Richard’s methods worked, and he was there to lend as much help as needed to his teammates, his coach said.

“They started getting serious, and he started helping them,” Donnerson said. “And some guys would help him. A lot of guys were only with him in classes as a freshman, because then he took AP [advanced placement] and honors classes. They weren’t in his classes any more.”

“He used to tell me, ‘Look at tests like football. Look at it as a challenge. Take on that challenge. Anything you want, go achieve it,’ ” said Crummie, who signed with San Jose State as a running back out of high school.

Today, Sherman describes himself as the black sheep among his friends from Stanford, many of whom are lawyers, doctors and venture capitalists. They tell him he has a lot more to offer society than just being a football player.

“I’m the guy who bashes his head in for a living,” he jokingly said.

But life outside of being a football player will have to wait. ESPN gauged his interest in retiring to enter the broadcast booth for “Monday Night Football” after he sustained a torn Achilles during the 2017 season. He was offered a lucrative deal to begin his broadcasting career, Sherman said.

But acting as his own agent, Sherman opted to sign a three-year contract with the 49ers shortly after the Seahawks released him in March 2018. ESPN ended up with Jason Witten in the Monday night booth for one season before he returned to the Dallas Cowboys this season.

“He realizes there’s a lot more life after football,” Sherman’s father said. “He seems to be in preparation for that. He doesn’t know how long that’s going to be, but he’s making preparations.”

Said his mother: “He has a lot more to do.”

Master motivator

Branton Sherman was a standout athlete at Dominguez before his brother. He eventually received a football scholarship to play wide receiver at Montana State. He became the family’s first four-year college graduate when he earned a bachelor’s of science in health enhancement.

The day Branton earned his college degree was a monumental day for the family.

“It was an even bigger deal when Richard committed to Stanford,” Branton said.

Branton serves as his brother’s business manager. He also helped his brother start Blanket Coverage, the Richard Sherman Family Foundation, which provides resources to students in low-income communities. Now, Richard’s wife, Ashley, runs the foundation’s day-to-day operations.

Branton said he always wanted his younger brother to learn from the mistakes he made before him. Branton never got into too much trouble, but there was the time the varsity practice was interrupted by Beverly tearing into the dirt parking lot and pulling her son from practice because she got a phone call from his Spanish teacher that he was acting out in class.

“She came out there and snatched me off the field,” he said. “It was a very embarrassing moment, but it makes sense now that I’m an adult. I was jacking around in class, being a clown.”

Branton knew from an early age how to push his brother’s buttons to get the most out of him. All he had to do was tell him what he could not do.

“When it came to sports or anything, I figured this kid responded well to adversity and people doubting him,” Branton said of his younger brother. “I figured, I’m his brother, he always wants to prove me wrong and show he can do this. I took advantage of that.”

Before a Pop Warner game, Branton struck a nerve when talking about the upcoming opponent’s star player, Marvin “Biggem” Johnson.

“Hey, man,” Branton told his brother, “you’re playing against ‘Biggem’ this week. I don’t know if you guys are going to win. I know he’s going to run you over because he heard you’re playing running back and you’re not a real running back.”

The tactic proved effective that day, and Branton still uses this tool to motivate Richard. He has done it every step of the way, including when Richard began his Stanford career as a wide receiver after then-coach Walt Harris recruited him to Palo Alto.

One player Branton regularly cited to annoy his brother was Michael Crabtree, the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as the best receiver in college football.

“Bro, I don’t know who this guy Crabtree is over at Texas Tech, but he is doin’ numbers!” Branton told his brother.

Richard responded, according to his older brother: “So what? He’s at Texas Tech. They throw every single play. He’s not all that good. He’s a’ight, he’s cool, but he’s not that good where those numbers match up to how good he is.”

Sherman had a damaged patellar tendon that made it nearly impossible for him to function as a junior. Then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was angry that Sherman underwent season-ending surgery to repair a damaged patellar tendon early in the 2008 season, Sherman said. Harbaugh expressed to Sherman that he quit on the team, Sherman recalls.

Despite leading the Cardinal in receiving yards as a freshman and sophomore, Sherman was banished from the offensive side of the ball in 2009 and 2010. (The NCAA granted Sherman a medical redshirt for 2008).

Sherman switched to defense and started as the bottom cornerback on the depth chart, determined to excel despite the mutual acrimony he experienced with his coach. Because he knew every element of the team’s offense, he immediately began dominating in offseason workouts and practices. He started at cornerback during his final two seasons at Stanford.

Harbaugh was in his first season as 49ers coach and had no desire for his new organization to consider Sherman in the draft. The Seahawks -- and Harbaugh’s bitter adversary, Pete Carroll – took Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft with the No. 154 overall pick.

Two years earlier, the 49ers had chosen Crabtree at No. 10 overall. Sherman finally would go head-to-head in the NFC West against his secret rival.

The message heard 'round the NFL

Michael Crabtree didn't take kindly to Richard Sherman's offer of a handshake at the end of the 2013 NFC Championship (Photo by The Associated Press)

Even today, Richard Sherman will get his 49ers teammates fired up for a big defensive series by stating, “Big players make big plays in big games.” Sherman lived up to those words on Jan. 19, 2014.

Sherman already was recognized as one of the game’s top players when he made the most memorable play of his NFL career at the most important time.

The 49ers’ final bid at an NFC championship ended when Sherman broke up Colin Kaepernick’s pass for Crabtree in the right corner of the end zone. Linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted the deflection for the game-saving play that propelled Seattle to its first Super Bowl title two weeks later. Immediately after the interception, Sherman ran up to Crabtree, stuck out his hand and said, “Hell of a game.” Crabtree swatted Sherman’s face.

Sherman’s eagerness to engage with Crabtree mere seconds after the pivotal play might seem odd, of course. But it certainly isn’t out of character, either. Sherman and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a postgame interaction after a 2012 Seahawks victory at which time Sherman famously shouted at him, “You mad, bro?”

Two seasons later, Sherman was the first to stick out his hand to congratulate a still-kneeling Brady immediately after a crushing Seahawks loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.

After Sherman made the deciding play to thwart Crabtree, FOX sideline reporter Erin Andrews had a raw, live interview with him on the field. Still feeling the emotions from the victory -- and his personal feelings toward Crabtree -- Sherman let loose like rarely before seen on national television.

"Well, I'm the best corner in the game," Sherman shouted into the FOX microphone. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me."

Andrews asked, “Who talked about you?”

"Crabtree!" Sherman shot back. "Don't you open your mouth about the best, or I'm going to shut it for you real quick."

Sherman always thought Crabtree was vastly overrated when they both were college wide receivers. The previous offseason, it got personal when the two got into a verbal altercation during Larry Fitzgerald’s charity softball game in Arizona.

“From that point on, Richard really did not care for him as a person and as a football player,” Branton said.

That nationally televised postgame interview increased Sherman’s popularity. The Shermans sold nearly $1 million in merchandise in the two weeks between the rant and the Super Bowl, Branton said. It also increased Sherman’s notoriety in some circles, and led to nasty personal sentiments mostly expressed to him via social media.

Sherman’s parents recognized that their son maintained enough composure in the moment to remain safely within FCC regulations.

“Just because you see a heated guy doesn’t mean he was a bad guy,” Kevin Sherman said. “He gave you the full-on effect without being vulgar.”

The next day, Sherman authored his final column of a season-long commitment for Peter King's The MMQB. He wrote:

To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field— don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

Today, as Sherman sits in the 49ers' locker room, he reflects on that moment when he appeared in front of the nation for his jarring live interview, just moments after an emotional victory over the team for which he now plays.

“It could’ve gone either way,” Sherman said. “It elevated my platform. I could have used that platform in a negative way if I’m just tweeting nonsense and BS’ing. But I used that platform to express a positive message about moving forward, about being an academic, about treating people the way you want to be treated and making the world a better place. It became a positive.”

Sherman’s delivery resonated with many viewers. It appalled others -- mostly 49ers fans, of course. But it forced a lot more people to take a closer look into the journey he took to arrive in that moment in time.

Richard Sherman's 2014 meeting with President Barack Obama also included some kind words from the Commander in Chief (Photo by The Associated Press)

President Barack Obama invited the Seahawks to the White House to honor the organization for the Super Bowl title they claimed two weeks after the victory over the 49ers. During his public remarks, Obama cut to the essence of Sherman:

“He showed kids from his neighborhood that they could make it. And if he seems a little brash, it’s because you’ve got to have attitude sometimes if you’re going to overcome some of this adversity. And the fact that he still goes back to inspire high schoolers for higher goals and making better choices, that’s all-star behavior.”

Look beyond the dreadlocks and his outspoken, unfiltered and, often, controversial observations, opinions and statements. How does an athletically gifted kid from the inner city devote as much time and energy to his academics, motivate his classmates on and off the field, qualify for acceptance into Stanford and thrive in that community, too?

“The real message is, don’t judge a book by its cover,” Sherman said. “Don’t be so quick to pass judgment, regardless of circumstances -- not just about sports, in every situation. There are people who see me and look at me and pass immediate judgment.”

Richard Sherman is every bit as complex and multi-layered as the neighborhood, the environment, the street, around which he grew up. You never know what you might see on the outside.

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