Roger Goodell is the most-maligned commissioner in professional sports, but few of his detractors are more compelling than Richard Sherman.
Recently, the outspoken cornerback criticized the NFL's new rule regarding personal fouls, which mandates that a player get ejected after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Sherman said Goodell, who first proposed the idea in February, shouldn't be setting the agenda for officials.
"I think [the rule] is foolish, but I mean, it sounds like something somebody who's never played the game would say, something that they would suggest," Sherman said, via ESPN. "Because he doesn't understand. He's just a face. He's just a suit. He's never stepped foot on the field and understood how you can get a personal foul."
Sherman is far from the only person who's questioned the rule, which provides referees even more power over the outcome of games. Yet, when Goodell commented on the criticism at the league meetings, he appeared to single out Sherman.
"This is all within their control," Goodell said. "Sportsmanship is important to the membership. We all have standards. They have two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties before they're ejected. The message from the membership, our clubs and the coaches is they're going to be held to those high standards."
Over the last couple of years, Sherman has lambasted the league on issues ranging from its player safety initiatives to media policy. This past October, he called the league hypocritical for saying it cares about players, while simultaneously putting their health at risk with Thursday Night Football games. A couple of months later, he chimed in on the league's concussion crisis, saying he sees a "Concussion movie every Sunday," referencing the major motion picture starring Will Smith.
Many other players have expressed displeasure over the league's Thursday night package over the years and sounded off on concussions, but Sherman's voice is the loudest. He's an All-Pro cornerback and one of the most marketable stars in the game. The NFL provides him with a major platform, and he has little problem using it to rail against the shield.
Take his stance against the league-mandated media policy, for example. The NFL demands that its players speak to the press on a regular basis, even though Goodell is seldom available for interviews. Instead of staging a pseudo-media boycott, like his ex-teammate Marshawn Lynch, Sherman took to the podium to air his grievances. His two-and-a-half minute mock press conference in November -- conducted alongside a cardboard cutout of Doug Baldwin -- pointed out a number of the NFL's irrational policies, including its insistence that players only wear certain brands during league events.
Sherman could have simply shunned the media, but then his message wouldn't have gotten out there. Few athletes understand the power of the bully pulpit better.
Sherman possesses the ability to look past the surface level of an issue. Last summer, he explained that DeflateGate wasn't really about whether Tom Brady deflated footballs in the AFC Championship. He maintained it was a way for Goodell to assert his authority, which is routinely taken out more on players than the 32 owners who appointed him as commissioner.
"You’re fining players more than you’re fining organizations?" Sherman said, via USA Today, pointing out how Brady would've lost $2 million if he missed four games last season while the Patriots were only docked $1 million. "Owners can only be fined so much. There’s a cap. And Brady gets fined (roughly $2 million). Whether the crimes are the same or not, a suspension is a suspension, a fine is a fine. Game checks."
Sherman will be remembered as one of the best cornerbacks of his generation, but his sharp critiques of the league will ultimately define his legacy.