Tommy Sherman was a former student of Lawndale High, in Trent Lane's graduating class. He was seen only in the episode "The Misery Chick," but his presence is felt in a later episode, "A Tree Grows in Lawndale."
Tommy Sherman Before the Series
Before the start of the series, Tommy Sherman was a star football player of Lawndale High. He brought home the State Championship. He played Quarterback, and insisted on making all the touchdown runs himself ("a real team player," Daria points out). Distracted by the crowd, he would often run straight into a goal post during the run, sometimes injuring himself.
It is implied by Trent Lane that Tommy was a very poor student.
Tommy in "The Misery Chick"
When he reappeared at Lawndale High, Tommy was tall, broad-shouldered, and muscular. He had light brown hair, a flattened nose, a T-shirt, and bluejeans. Personality-wise, Tommy can only be described as "a colossal jerk" (Daria's phrasing). He was arrogant and rude to an extreme, having no concern for the feelings or needs of others, and he felt entitled to sex and attention at his every whim. One odd habit he had was referring to himself in the third person as a way of emphasizing his importance. He also tended to strut in a self-important manner. Given some comments he made, it is possible he was a binge drinker.
Tommy Sherman was about the same age as Trent Lane, who was a former classmate. Trent is noted to be 21 during the first season of Daria. Per Richard Lobinske’s chronology of the Daria series, “The Misery Chick” probably took place in the fall of 1997, so the state championship was won in late November or early December 1994. Tommy thus graduated in spring 1995, give or take a year.
When he was a senior at Lawndale High, Tommy was the school's star football player. He was the quarterback of the Lawndale Lions when the team won the state championship. (This was three years before the time of "The Misery Chick.") Tommy was known for wanting to bring in the touchdowns himself, never passing to anyone else. He also had the habit of turning to wave at the crowd as he did so, often running into the goalpost head-first. He broke his nose twice and during the playoffs went into a coma for six days, an injury that nearly caused him to miss the championship game. He recovered without apparent harm to lead the team to victory the next day.
In "The Misery Chick," a break-away goalpost on the Lawndale Lions football field was to be dedicated to him, which set up the major conflict of the episode. When visiting the school, he managed to piss off everyone he talked to by being an obnoxious, boorish, crude man who assumed every girl wanted him and that it was his right to rip the piss out of boys at random. While walking onto the football field after a nasty conversation with Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane, Tommy was struck by a large, heavy wooden crate containing the goalpost (which had apparently not yet been assembled and erected) and was killed on the spot. Only Kevin Thompson idolized him, though Angela Li (and perhaps Coach Gibson) appreciated his winning talents if not his personality.
His death left almost everyone in school upset, though for the most part this seemed less because Tommy Sherman himself was dead and more because someone was dead at school & that represented death in general. Kevin was genuinely upset that Tommy was dead. Others like Brittany, meanwhile, were upset because they weren't sure how to feel that someone they disliked was dead and felt rotten that they hated "the dead guy", while Jane was left shaky by the fact she'd joked he would die a few seconds before he really did.
Tommy in fanfiction
Aside from a few exceptions, Tommy Sherman has been universally depicted as a villainous character, ranging from jerk to outright evil. He's been sociopathically vindictive, a rapist, and sometimes a comic book supervillain.
Several exceptions exist. "Run On Tommy - Run On" by OverlordMikey has Tommy knowing he's a failed drop-out with ego problems and backs Jodie in giving a speech about what he's really like, in the hope others turn out different. "A Life in Bit Parts" by TAG has Tommy as an actor playing the Tommy we saw, and noted to be a really nice guy off-screen.
A Closer Look
Certain aspects of Tommy Sherman's life and death are worthy of closer examination and comment. Ignore for a moment the fact that this is a cartoon, and just play along.
Daria and Tommy's encounter
The crux of the episode revolves around Daria and Tommy's respective verbal broadsides:
- Daria: I know the whole school's turning itself inside out because of some egotistical football player, and I've seen you insult or proposition just about everyone you come across, so my guess is that you're the football player guy. Congratulations. You must have worked very hard to become such a colossal jerk so quickly.
As she speaks, Tommy looks taken aback. He replies in an aggressive tone:
- Tommy: You know what Tommy Sherman's going to do now? He's going to go out onto the field and check out his new goal post. He's going to read the plaque and think of all the people who admire him. But you wouldn't know anything about that. You're one of those misery chicks, always moping about what a cruel world it is, making a big deal about it so people won't notice that you're a loser.
Tommy is clearly bothered that he's been dissed but how deeply do her specific words cut him? He doesn't care to address her points, he simply cuts her down and carries on as normal - this could be read as him merely angry he was talked back to and from his perspective, he's punished her for it. On the other hand, he's immediately going to go check out his goalpost and think of being admired: this implies his ego's taken a bit of a battering from the fact someone doesn't care who he is, and his comments are him lashing out to save himself.
Later episodes would make it clear that Daria does deliberately try to keep people away and is more emotionally fragile than the S1 episodes had indicated; Tommy could be making an accurate judgement. However, Daria didn't show any sign of being bothered that Tommy was right - what bothered her was everyone else viewed her as a 'misery chick' afterwards, when "I'm just not like them". Tommy's comment has no impact on its own.
Based on Tommy and Daria's strong personalities, it's entirely possible if not for his death, both parties would think they 'won'.
(Thanks to the original script, we know the intention is Tommy is snapping because Daria's diss got a laugh - "Tommy's stunned. He looks at Jane. She snickers." - and "he walks off in a huff."
What Happened to Tommy After Graduation?
Not much, apparently. No one, including Tommy, said a word about where he’d been or what he’d done since he left high school. He was out of town, for certain, as Kevin said Tommy was “coming back to Lawndale.” It is possible Tommy went to college on a football scholarship, but if he skipped classes that seems unlikely. He probably passed classes the same way Kevin did, getting a bye (explained here) whenever he needed one. Perhaps Tommy was one of those people for whom high school was the best time of their lives, the peak of their achievements, and nothing that came after was quite as good. Certainly, all he focused on when visiting Lawndale and the whole centre of his ego was his high school football career, now five years in the past. He was stuck in his own past, and being unable to move on finally killed him.
How Bad is Tommy Sherman
Tommy Sherman has repeatedly been used in fanfic as a violent thug, an abuser, a rapist, or some other form of villain. In the episode, he's a massive jerk - but is he evil?
True, he viewed women only as potential sex partners and was crudely outspoken about this, and assumed they all wanted him. When Daria approaches him because he's on her locker, he has no interest in her or Jane sexually and has the nerve to laugh that he'd never talk to Daria, before telling Jane "maybe [with her], Like, four hours into a kegger". He ignores Brittany has a boyfriend until she repeats it and assumes she's asking about a cuckolding fetish (which he's willing to do), and yells abuse when she leaves - however, not about her slapping him, which he seems to shrug off and doesn't retaliate over.
Tommy also insulted and belittled Kevin and Mack, but at first just in a breezy, jokey way about Kevin's height - just as Kevin is unwittingly rude about Daria. He only starts to get intentionally mean when he learned they were varsity footballer and Kevin had his old role - then he wants to insult Kevin's potential as a footballer. Tommy seems to want to make it clear he's still the big man. He also throws in a parting shot at Mack (renamed after his dad saw Michael Jordan play) to "make sure your father doesn't go to any Whoopi Goldberg movies", possibly the closest MTV would've allowed the show to get to an implied racial slur.
He was conceited, self-important, egotistical, and boorish; like Quinn Morgendorffer, he esteemed himself more than anyone. (“Do you know who I am? Tommy Sherman?”) In the script, the direction for the animators is that his famous strut is him "waiting for people to notice him". Even worse, Tommy was completely right that he was widely admired, though perhaps not by people who knew him very well. He was “unanimously voted most valuable player” by his teammates after the state championship win, and upon his return to Lawndale High was put up in a good hotel at LHS’s expense. A jerk he was, but he played to his strengths and was little hampered by his weaknesses. He was the worst kind of winner, but he was a winner nonetheless, and (almost) everyone loves a winner. "The guy was a hero," said Kevin. "A really good quarterback, everybody liked him, kinda hunky, you know." He even had a memorial tree (per "A Tree Grows in Lawndale.") On the other hand, nobody was that upset he was dead for his own sake: they were all upset as they had to confront the spectre of death or their views about themselves.
Finally, it appears Tommy had no notable criminal record, given the lack of mention of the same. He never physically harmed anyone (except himself, by hitting goalposts). Trent, who went to school with him, has nothing to say other than Tommy skipped a lot of classes. As Daria observed, he was not a nice guy, but he did not deserve to die. Was he evil? Only barely. He could have been far, far worse.
The Coma Before the Championship Game
According to a number of medical sources (a good example being this page from the website for the Brain Injury Association of America), a coma that lasts for six days as a result of a head trauma qualifies as a severe brain injury. During the playoffs, Tommy is said to have hit the goalpost so hard that his helmet cracked. Technically speaking, he suffered a closed head injury as his skull was not broken open. (If it had been, he would not have played football for a very long time afterward, if ever.) Interestingly, he recovered and played quite well by all accounts.
Did Tommy suffer long-lasting brain damage as a result of this severe brain injury? Despite the fact that he does not seem very bright or well mannered, he acts normally in all respects in “The Misery Chick.” For all his faults, Tommy is never shown to be impulsive, violent, irrational, or incoherent—all symptoms of certain kinds of brain damage. He was always in control of his emotions and reactions. It is interesting, however, to note that Tommy in "The Misery Chick" was unlikeable, but he is often said to have been popular in school. Could he have undergone a personality change from brain damage?
Tommy's apparent normality is nothing short of amazing, given the number of times he is said to have knocked himself out against goalposts. Study the information from the Brain Injury Resource Center, or the effects of repetitive head injury (“second-impact”) syndrome as defined on emedicine.com. His ability to withstand repeated brain injuries seems almost superhuman. Why, then, did he succumb to a final goalpost hit in “The Misery Chick”?
The Circumstances of Tommy’s Death
Tommy’s death in “The Misery Chick” is problematic on several levels. After he left Daria and Jane, how did he get from a high-school hallway to the football field in less than 20 seconds? Look at the diagram of the high school in The Daria Diaries and note the distance he had to cover. One is forced to assume that an interval of several minutes actually passes between the time Daria says, “You know wishes don't come true” and the crash signaling Tommy’s demise, though it is shown to be only an instant. Perhaps the scene between Tommy, Daria, and Jane took place at the end of Lawndale High next to the football field, as the crash is heard so clearly. Less time would have to pass before Tommy is killed, but 20 seconds is still pushing it.
How exactly did Tommy die? We can piece together a probable scenario with intriguing possibilities from clues scattered throughout “The Misery Chick” and even in The Daria Diaries.
After the crash and a rush of students to the scene of Tommy’s death, Kevin Thompson wails, “Oh, my God! The goal post fell! Tommy Sherman's dead! He's deeeaaad!” This implies the break-away goalpost broke away too soon and fell on Tommy, killing him. In her eulogy Principal Li calls Tommy “a young man—our hero—struck down in a freakish accident by the very goal post that was to have been dedicated in his honor.” However, she then adds: “What lesson can we take from all of this, other than not to leave any goalposts in sharp-edged wooden crates leaning precariously against the bleachers!” As she speaks she glares at two startled and upset men who appear to be the school’s custodians, likely responsible for moving and placing the delivered post. The goalpost had not been set up, then.
Later, Kevin says to Daria (misunderstanding her), “You're saying he got hit on the head out there on the football field, the team's home, and now it's going to be cursed or something, and we're going to lose all our games.” We know from this that Tommy suffered another head injury when he was struck by the crate. Ms. Li’s remark about “sharp-edged wooden crates” implies one of those sharp edges hit Tommy’s head with disastrous consequences. This was one brain injury too many.
How big would a crate have to be to ship a single high-school football goalpost? (Jane said only one was purchased due to budget cuts.) Well, how big is a goalpost? About.com states that a gooseneck (or “pitchfork”) goalpost consists of a “post, crossbar, and two uprights. The post that holds the uprights is 10 feet tall and placed approximately 80 feet from the sidelines. The crossbar, which is 18 feet, 6 inches in length, sits atop the post. The uprights extend 30 feet above the crossbar.” Another website notes that uprights for college field are 20 feet long and those for high schools are 10 feet, but many high-school goalposts are sold in the larger size. (See, for example, Jaypro’s goalposts and those from Blackwater Sports.) A 30-foot-tall goalpost made of galvanized steel weighs 1,100-1,200 lbs., not counting the weight of the crate and packing. Gooseneck goalposts are shipped in four parts (post, crossbar, two uprights). If packed into a flat rectangular crate, with the long uprights in crossed diagonal positions and other parts fitted around them, the sides of the crate will be at least 15 feet long, and the whole about 1-2 feet thick, with packing and wood covering. This is guesswork, yes, but not unreasonable. (True, The Daria Diaries shows the upper part of the school’s goalposts are U-shaped, not square-edged, but bear with me.)
A very large crate weighing over half a ton falls and one sharp edge hits Tommy on the head. This sounds like an open head injury resulted, breaking Tommy’s helmetless skull and exposing (if not crushing and scattering) his brain tissue. He died on the spot, so the worst may be imagined. The accident scene must have been ghastly.
What caused the crate to fall? The wind, as Tommy walked past? A careless brush of his hand, or an attempt to lean against the crate? Or something else? We have one big crate leaning “precariously” against the viewing stands on the football field. The memorial goalpost had not been uncrated, assembled, or mounted. Before he left, Tommy Sherman told Daria and Jane that he intended to go out and see his goalpost, which he clearly thought had been assembled and mounted, and he wanted to read the plaque that dedicated the post to him. When he got to the field, he obviously realized none of that was possible. Was he so upset at seeing this that he tried to uncrate the goalpost by himself, pulling it over on him? Did he punch the crate in frustration and tip it over? Or did he finally lose his temper and do something stupid after he discovered the goalpost had been misnamed?
Fans of Daria have long been puzzled that The Daria Diaries identifies Lawndale High School’s football field as the location of the Tommy Sheridan Memorial Goalpost--Sheridan, not Sherman. It is generally assumed a mistake was made in the book. Perhaps not. Timothy O'Neill is infamous for getting the names of his students wrong. What if he was the one who wrote out the order for the goalpost? What if Mr. O'Neill got his history confused? (Sherman and Sheridan were both Union generals during the American Civil War.) What if the egotistical Tommy Sherman discovered that the shipping label for the goalpost misspelled his last name, so his goalpost was misnamed as well, and in a rage he kicked or struck the nearest flat surface: the unstable crate containing the goalpost designed to prevent careless football players from getting head injuries? His goalpost?
That’s irony for you on a lot of levels.
Tommy Sherman in fanfiction
- Teaching Tommy Sherman 'helps' turn DeMartino into the angry man we know in Kristen Bealer's "Squandered Potential"
Alternate Versions of Tommy Sherman
- In the John Lane fanfic series, Tommy assaulted Daria and John while visiting Lawndale High. This was caught on a security camera, resulting in Tommy's violation of parole (from an earlier offense), arrest, and loss of his football career. It is strongly insinuated that he would be sent to prison.
- In Daria 2007: The Girl From Hope by The Angst Guy, Tommy Sherman joined the army after school and died in Iraq.
- In A Life of Bit Parts by The Angst Guy, Tommy Sherman was a part played by 'real life' bit-part actor Tommy Sheridan. Sheridan was known to be a nice, friendly man, and Sherman was his most famous role.
- In the God Save The Esteem fanfic series, while Tommy is still a massive, entitled jerk, he is also bitter that Lawndale High let him coast and never cared to tell him what damage this would do to his prospects after school. During his speech to the school, he lays into Li's regime. He later becomes the school's PE teacher.
Tommy Sherman-centred fanfics
- "The Antisocial Climber" by The Angst Guy
- "Dark of Hearts" by The Angst Guy
- "A Life of Bit Parts" by The Angst Guy
- "Letting Go"(Part 1, Part 2, Epilogue by RX-87, in which Tommy and Val's ghosts bond
- "Run On, Tommy - Run On" by OverlordMikey
- "Whatever happened to Tommy Sherman?" by Chris Tucker
- "When Tommy Goes Lurching Home" by Charles RB