- Tsongas Litigation Consulting
RE-FRAMING RICHARD SHERMAN
Even if you’re not a football, Seahawk, or Super Bowl fan (and if you’re not, we’re still accepting new12th fans!) you couldn’t possibly have missed the brouhaha created by Richard Sherman’s interview with Erin Andrews following the Seahawks’ win over the 49ers last weekend. While I could use this space to write about the power of stereotypes — in the words of Sherman, himself, “’There’s a saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ but they’re judging it by its cover.” Or I could write about anonymous communications’ negative impact on civil discourse.
But what really struck me after watching the aftermath was how many people were quick to judge, but also quick to recant once they knew the real Richard Sherman. I have always been a Sherman fan – I love his tenacity, his passion, and the role he played in getting “my” Seahawks to their 2nd Super Bowl. But, I also love his story. Not many people knew that story, though, so when he launched into his infamous “rant” people made a snap judgment. As I’ve watched the story unfold, more people are learning that story; more people are getting to hear him speak, and it appears that the tide just might be turning and maybe, in the words of Isaac Saul, writing for the Huffington Post, America can now “talk about the Stanford graduate from Compton who has never been arrested, never cursed in a post-game interview, never been accused of being a dirty player, started his own charitable non-profit, and won an appeal in the only thing close to a smudge on his record.”
The media’s re-framing of Sherman is not unlike what the defense must do after the plaintiff has just given their opening and only included the “ranting Sherman” part of the story. “The ranting Sherman” is the bad email, the missing step, the uncaring manager, the emotional aftermath of an accident. It’s the part of the case that plaintiff wants to make THE ONLY part of the story. It’s the part of the case that will make jurors angry and prime them to want to make the defendant pay. But, just like there is more to Sherman than his “rant,” there is usually more to the case. How can a defendant best present his or her case without appearing defensive and without adopting plaintiff’s key assertions?
Reframing is not a “Yeah, but…” response to plaintiff’s case. It’s not “Yeah, but his rant was because….” followed by the excuses (i.e., “Crabtree tried to start a fight with him,”). It’s not a “There are two sides to every story, and let me tell you what we think happened…”
Re-framing is an entirely different story. In the case of Sherman, even the rant (call it the bad fact in your case) is included and makes sense given the framework:
Sherman is passionate, and sometimes that passion is a little over the top.
Sherman just made the play that sealed the Seahawks Division Championship and their place in Super Bowl XLVIII; who wouldn’t be a bit over the top at the moment?
Or as Tommy Tomlinson wrote for Forbes (Yes! Even Forbes covered the incident!), “Did you see the two most physical teams in football beat each other half to death? Did you see all the brutal hits? Did you see all the players who couldn’t get up after the play? Did you see all those guys who had to be helped off the field? …. Anyway: That was the kind of game it was. Rough and angry and so violent that at times it was hard to watch. More important, he survived the carnage….It seems to me that the only proper response to surviving something like that is to holler like a crazy person.”
That response, that re-framing of the rant, creates an entirely different perception. It places the “bad fact” in the needed context. Re-framing doesn’t just involve the “bad fact.” It’s a framework that jurors can relate to for the entire case, can use to make sense of the information, and can help them remember the significant details. The goal of your opening is to make it difficult for jurors to cling to the plaintiff’s version of the case. Plaintiff’s framework should no longer make as much sense; should no longer be as emotionally appealing; should no longer be as memorable. Just like it’s becoming difficult for people to cling to the stereotype of “thug” as they learn about the real Richard Sherman.
Will everyone who learns the Sherman story change their mind? Clearly and sadly, no. That’s where jury selection becomes important….but that’s for a different blog. Right now I have to go buy my Sherman – Legion of Boom – t-shirt, put up my 12th fan flag, send out my Super Bowl XLVIII invites, then sit down and watch the next 11 days of coverage (aka the “hype”). I’ll be loving every minute of it. GO SEAHAWKS!!!!