Sherman's march to the Super Bowl

Don't hate the player; hate the game, as the saying goes. 

Here's a defense of the game because of the player.

It's going to be fashionable in the next few minutes to hate on Richard Sherman, and I'm not going to defend his postgame rant or his throat-slashing gesture after his pass breakup sealed Seattle's win against San Francisco and booked the Seahawks' spot in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

What I am going to say is that I like Sherman. He contributes a thoughtful online column to SI. He is brash and unapologetic and plays the game with an unbridled passion. Yes, that passion, and his mouth, gets him in trouble. It also breathes some life into a league that, frankly, could use some right now.

I love football. I have loved football all my life. I have not loved it as much in recent years, with rules taking halfhearted and misguided stabs at ensuring safety while leaching the heart from the game, turning the sport I grew up watching with my daddy and my granny into a folly I hardly recognize. The league that couldn't settle a class-action lawsuit fast, or cheaply, enough to keep the plaintiffs out of its private papers wants me, and you, to believe that it cares deeply about whether a player can pass a concussion test. It wants you to believe that leading-with-the-helmet penalties are to protect the players and not cover its ass. It wants you to believe that the no-contact-after-5-yards and every other rule that lights up the scoreboard is because that's a better, safer way to play the game, and not a more lucrative way to keep fannies in seats,  TV deals skyrocketing and the fantasy football industry thriving.

That offends me more than Richard Sherman. The blatant denial that concussions and head trauma and CTE were a problem, and the two-faced reasons given to pressure ESPN to remove its sponsorship from a documentary chronicling that denial, offend me more than Richard Sherman.

The milquetoast personalities that are en vogue in the No Fun League these days, with bland expressions and cliche-ridden quotes, offend me more than Richard Sherman. The Twittocrites who call for more soul in the game and its players, and then raise a hue and cry about political incorrectness, offend me more than Richard Sherman. A league that happily intertwines itself with alcohol giants and their limitless advertising dollars while relentlessly promoting itself as family-friendly entertainment offends me more than Richard Sherman.

A league that fines Brandon Marshall for daring to want to wear a non-approved color in support of a non-approved cause offends me more than Richard Sherman. A league that is chasing tailgaters from its parking lots and average fans from its luxury seats offends me more than Richard Sherman.

The gay slurs detailed in Chris Kluwe's account of his dealings with the coaching staff of the Minnesota Vikings offend me more than a thousand Richard Shermans.

Not to mention that Sherman is hardly the only one displaying over-the-top actions on the field. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh whines at every non-call, berates officials with language even a novice lip-reader can decode and perpetually looks as though someone has broken his favorite toy, but he's "intense" and a "player's coach." He also doesn't have dreadlocks or dark skin. Do those statements have anything to do with each other? (And if your automatic answer is no, you might want to check out Deadspin's tweet on the subject).

Another question to consider: Is Richard Sherman bad for football? The fans who mobbed him in the stands after his memorable interview ended don't think so. In many ways, he's good for it. Does that make you mad, bro?