Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman twerked his way into national consciousness last Sunday night and made himself a household name. In a brilliant marketing maneuver, he understood the colossal ratings for a NFC Championship game would provide a stage for some unique activity.
With his post-game rant in an interview with Erin Andrews, he emulated Miley Cyrus's attention grabbing tactics. Much of the public was offended by Cyrus but it made her a worldwide star and jumpstarted her career.
Sherman's blast had the same divisive response, but it is all anyone is talking about.
I just returned from five days in New York on a book tour promoting The Agent. Even in the midst of the Polar Vortex, an electric jolt of 8-degree temperatures with fierce wind and snow, which is a shock to the system of a Californian, I did extensive interviews. In some 80 talk radio appearances, television, and print, there was one constant refrain "What did you think of Richard Sherman's antics?"
The last football player to have this sense of timing and center stage was Deion Sanders, who had an uncanny ability to find the right forum at the right time to put himself center-stage.
On Sunday, the largest star-building opportunity America offers will descend on New York City for Super Bowl week. Print and electronic media from across the country and around the world will be focused on the contestants in the Feb. 2 game. Those players who interview well and play dramatically have an opportunity to be put into our "celebrity-making machine." They can transcend the narrow genre of hardcore sports fans and become crossover national names.
When my client Troy Aikman approached his first Super Bowl in 1993, he was perceived to be an excellent quarterback with high name recognition in Dallas and Southern California. After a week of interviews and a MVP performance in the game, he emerged as "Troy Aikman, American Hero."
Endless media pieces are centered around the concept of interesting celebrities. Leno and Letterman and "People" and "Kelly and Michael" cross an athlete out of sports profile into national prominence. The Denver-Seattle contest will center on whether Seattle's defense can slow down Denver's pass-happy offense. Richard Sherman, a cornerback in the line of fire, will be a constant focus in game coverage.
I have spent 40 years promoting the concept of athletes as role models triggering imitative behavior. I would not be thrilled if one of my clients personalized a team victory and drew attention away from his teammates. But there always has been a huge market for the anti-hero and the rebel. Richard Sherman is an intelligent Stanford graduate. He waited for the opportunity to grab center stage and from a straight marketing perspective -- he was brilliant.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.