At times when Richard Sherman and his brother Branton were young and at home on their own, some of the homeless and down-on-their-luck people from their neighborhood would gather around their house.
Not for the purposes of mayhem or misconduct, but to stand as unofficial sentries.
“They weren’t really baby-sitting us, but if my parents were gone at work, and we tried to go out somewhere, they’d have the authority to tell us to get back in the house,” Sherman said.
It wasn’t just a matter of keeping the Sherman kids in, but keeping bad things out.
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Why would some of the most troubled and needy inhabitants of one of the most troubled and needy Los Angeles-area communities, Compton, look out for the Shermans?
Because the caring was reciprocal.
“Whenever they needed a meal or it was a holiday, they knew they could come by and eat with us,” Sherman said. “We still have relationships with some of those people.”
Now a man of considerable means, Sherman is expanding on the noble family legacy of compassion and social awareness. That, in a large part, explains why the All-Pro cornerback on Wednesday was named as the Seahawks’ Man of the Year.
Sherman said he was humbled by the honor. The word “humbled” seemed out of context applied to the brash Sherman the public sometimes sees. But it’s certainly reflective of the upbringing he received from Kevin and Beverly Sherman.
“My mom would see someone homeless on the street with the sign, and she would put them in a car and go get them a meal,” Sherman said.
She didn’t make the assumption that the hungry were druggies or shiftless, but perhaps well-intended people fallen upon hard times. “You want to treat (people) like you want to be treated; my parents always taught me that at a young age,” Sherman said.
Sherman’s foundation raises money to help underprivileged youths in the Seattle area with school supplies to help them level the scholastic playing field. He meets with at-risk students to counsel them on grades and attendance and citizenship, and mentors high school students and monitors their performance.
And during the holidays, he hosts 25 families at the Seahawks training facility and provides gifts for them.
“Before he was the Richard Sherman that we’ve come to know, he was always doing things for people without any of the publicity or fanfare,” said Seahawk receiver Doug Baldwin, a college classmate with Sherman at Stanford.
“He was doing things out of the kindness of his heart; he always had a big, giving heart. The things people know that he does … he does 100 things more that you don’t see, that don’t get publicized.”
Baldwin, a former Seahawk Man of the Year himself, has seen the difference Sherman makes with kids. “He’s inspiring those kids to be more than they thought they ever could be, allowing them to have dreams they might never have had.”
Older brother Branton, who helps run Sherman’s foundation, said the goal of making a difference in people’s lives was something the two boys talked about as early as junior high.
Richard Sherman on Wednesday recalled the times when he and Branton plotted the future. “We said, ‘One of us is going to make it big, and we’re going to help as many people as we can,’ ” he said. “It was because we knew what it was like to be a little down and out, and to not have what you want, and to wear hand-me-down shoes and to miss meals. We didn’t want other kids to go through that.”
Sherman’s game has grown, too, as he’s become a perennial All-Pro. He’s more versatile, and physical, becoming a solid tackler as well as a cover-cornerback. His steely toughness shone through in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay, when he played the second half of the game with an injured elbow that caused him to make tackles and cover receivers with one arm pulled tight to his body.
“He’s a remarkable guy,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I think he has such awareness and savvy on and off the field. Some of those things come out in his football game … great awareness and depth of understanding. That’s who this guy is.”
Sherman certainly is bold enough to aim high. I asked him a couple years ago what his goal in life was. “To change the world,” he said.
It still is, but he’s refined his approach.
“I think you do it one kid at a time, meeting them, talking to them,” he said. “That’s how you have to change things: One kid at a time.”