We should all thank Sherman for that, too, for everything he said and did after he batted away that touchdown pass-to-be to Michael Crabtree, batted it into the hands of a teammate, to beat San Francisco and send the Seahawks to a Super Bowl matchup with Peyton Manning's Broncos. Sherman's rant into Erin Andrews' mike had come in the immediate wake of that spectacular play. Without the benefit of a cooling-off period in the locker room, and without any reason to avoid a Fox reporter who understood the cornerback is everything a TV rights holder wants (smart, quotable, emotional and fearless), Sherman acted no differently than, say, a rock star celebrating a memorable big-stage performance by smashing his guitar.
Sherman ended up smashing Twitter instead, and he was subjected to vile slurs in the process. The worst of the tweets told him, in his words, "that racism is still alive and well," a truth he described as "so sad." Sherman was compelled to say that the word "thug" had become "the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays," and to wonder aloud how the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames can turn a hockey game into a prison riot without anyone fretting over the potential fall of civilization.
People are paid to punch each other out in the overwhelmingly white NHL, and the fighting is often viewed as part of the sport's fabric. The enforcers are cast as necessary tone-setters, and bodyguards for teammates who actually have a little, you know, skill.
But imagine if a couple of designated fighters were employed by each team in the NBA, where more than three-quarters of the players are black. Imagine the public outcry if NBA "goons" squared off and fired heat-seeking haymakers at each other's heads on a regular basis.
The double standard is there for every sports fan to see. Sherman made people ask themselves, "When's the last time anyone called a white athlete a 'thug'?" And he did something for many viewers who initially figured the self-celebrating cornerback was a thug before learning he was a high school salutatorian who aced Stanford.
He likely made them reconsider their assumptions about the next victorious black athlete they see screaming trash talk into their high-def TVs.
Only here's something Richard Sherman needs to understand: This productive dialogue works both ways, too, as the distinguished sociologist, Dr. Harry Edwards, pointed out Sunday night in a phone interview from his California home. Edwards described Sherman's takedown of Crabtree as "revealing" and "ridiculous."
"What drove Richard Sherman to go on this rant, that's where the discussion should take place," said Edwards, a professor at UC Berkeley. "Telling me there are white people in this country who don't like blacks is like telling me my nose has two holes in it. That's the same old dead end, cul-de-sac, box-canyon conversation.
"Let's broaden the conversation. Here you have in Mr. Sherman a middle-class, bright, academically and professionally accomplished young black man trying to gain street cred. It's not enough to be an outstanding student and defensive back; you've got to somehow meet the measure of black orthodoxy. I watch black students come to Berkeley who are young and bright, and they try to prove they are authentically black."