Richard Sherman is no "thug." But, let's face it: He acted like one on TV.
So did the Internet trolls who denounced him with worse words than "thug."
In case you missed it, I am referring to how Sherman, a Seattle Seahawks cornerback, has given us Americans something to chatter about in the run-up to this year's Super Bowl besides football.
Instead we're talking about how Sherman came across as a sore winner in a post-game TV interview with sideline Fox reporter Erin Andrews on live television.
Sherman had just pulled off a game-winning defensive play. He swatted the ball away from 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone, sending the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
But instead of appearing to be gracious in his victory, Sherman shouted at the camera about how he was "the best corner in the game" and don't "try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree" and other bloviations.
What touched him off?
Video later revealed that Sherman had just offered a hand of friendship to Crabtree on the field and a cheerful "Helluva game!" to which Crabtree said nothing as he stiff-armed Sherman back in his faceguard.
Sherman was still fuming from that as he faced Andrews.
Nevertheless, the Twitterverse blew up with angry reactions to Sherman's antics, including the N-word, among other vile epithets to describe the African-American cornerback.
Most prominent was the word "thug." Deadspin reported that the word "thug" was uttered 625 times on American television the day following the Seahawks' win — more than any other single day in the last three years.
If the anonymity of social media made sociopaths feel free to unleash the N-word, the T-word suddenly became a big reason for Sherman's defenders to push back.
Asked about it during a later news conference in which Sherman apologized for his blow-up, he explained that the word "thug" bothered him "because it seems like it's an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now."
By comparison to his brief blowing off of steam, which contained no violence or curse words, he cited a recent Canadian hockey game between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks "where they didn't even play hockey! They just threw the puck aside and started fighting."
As reporters laughed, Sherman said, "I saw that and said, 'Ah, man, I'm the thug?'
"I've fought that (thug image) my whole life, just coming from where I'm coming from. You fight it for so long, and to have it come back up and people start to use it again, it's frustrating."
OK, I understand Sherman's umbrage, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my first thought upon seeing Sherman put his face into the TV camera lens to bark at Crabtree was, well, "thug."
I did not think about Sherman's academic achievements in high school, against great odds in his low-income Compton community. I wasn't thinking about his degree from Stanford or his commendable record of community service.
I was only thinking about what I was seeing — and it was not pretty.
I don't use the word "thug" loosely. Too many African-American males, as Sherman suggests, have been unfairly stereotyped with it. But I also believe we should avoid feeding the stereotype.
As I wrote back in the early 1990s, in response to then-NBA star Charles Barkley's odd "I am not a role model" ads for Nike, "Yes, you are."
The role models that kids see on TV are particularly important to kids who don't have enough role models at home. That's particularly true in African-American households, where the out-of-wedlock birth rate has been hovering at almost 70% in recent decades.
The shortage of adult male role models in their homes makes the role modeling they see on TV even more important.
Sure, there are double standards. We're accustomed to fights in which hockey games break out. We're accustomed to the phony swagger of professional wrestlers. That's show biz.
But either way, people tend to judge you by how you behave and how you keep your cool. That's reality. Even when athletes don't think they're role models, they still play them on TV.
Clarence Page is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.