Richard Sherman is a self-aggrandizing football narcissist. He is a Stanford graduate. He is a horrible character actor. He is a 6-foot-3-inch, game-changing cornerback who led the NFL in interceptions this season. He is a black male.
He is not a thug.
Sherman, who along with the rest of his Seattle Seahawks teammates will arrive in New Jersey on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII, is trying to cultivate a money-making, attention-grabbing persona like a shutdown cornerback that came before him, Deion Sanders. Except, unlike “Prime Time,” Sherman isn’t very good at it.
Sanders honed the “Prime Time” persona to perfection with flashy plays and flashy displays of braggadocio. Sherman’s play speaks volumes, but his hyper and hyperbolic act needs a lot of work.
That’s why the outcry over Sherman’s nationally televised outburst following the Seahawks’ 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game has been like the play the 49ers tried to beat him on — over the top.
Sherman is guilty of displaying poor showmanship and poor sportsmanship — the NFL fined him $7,875 on Friday for taunting the 49ers. But that’s it.
Sherman was denounced on Twitter and declared a thug on radio shows and television programs across the country for his belligerent postgame bragging.
It came after he set up the game-clinching interception by tipping a potential touchdown pass away from 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree — the target of Sherman’s diatribe — and into the arms of teammate Malcolm Smith.
“I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get,” Sherman screamed, looking into the Fox television camera like a pro wrestler for effect. “Don’t you ever talk about me.”
He was asked by Fox’s Erin Andrews who was talking about him, and he replied: “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m going to shut it for you real quick.”
Sherman sounded like someone who was severely constipated.
It was bad trash-talk theater, and much less entertaining than his “U Mad Bro” Twitter taunt of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last season.
But the tone of the backlash to Sherman’s rant is a far more serious and embarrassing societal ill than the rant itself. It has an undercurrent of veiled and not so veiled racism.
An outspoken African-American with dreadlocks who was screaming into America’s living room about how good he is generated vile, hateful responses.
The website Deadspin chronicled people on Twitter calling Sherman an “ignorant ape” and a “cocky [racial slur].”
Another tweeter said Sherman needed to be introduced to George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a polarizing case that a Florida jury ultimately determined was self-defense.
Those viewpoints are beyond disgusting and disgraceful in this, or any, day and age.
Ironically, Sherman’s rant had nothing to do with black and white, and everything to do with green.
He’s trying to make money by making a name for himself as the mouth of the Pacific Northwest. Sherman came into the league as a fifth-round pick in 2011. No one has intercepted more passes since (20), but he only made $600,000 this season.
He plays in a city that is three time zones away from the nation’s largest media market, New York. He doesn’t play for a franchise, like the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers or the Patriots, that has brand recognition across the country.
Sherman almost portended his actions in a Sports Illustrated piece that ran in July.
“Things I do probably look like madness, like I’m totally out of control, but there’s always a plan,” he told the magazine. “It’s part of a greater scheme to get some eyes, to grow the market, to grow Seattle. Now, people are paying attention.”
In a lot of ways, Sanders redefined the cornerback position, turning it into one of the most high-profile ones in the game. He is the archetype of the cocky, boastful, supremely confident cornerback.
A lot of the qualities Sanders displayed are now associated with the position in general and have influenced an entire generation of defensive backs.
Sherman wants to follow in Sanders’s footsteps, but he went about it with a not-ready-for “Prime Time” act.
On Wednesday, Sherman said of his flipping-out philippic, “maybe, it was misdirected and immature.”
But Sherman is one of the last players in the league that deserves to be tagged as a thug, a term that should be reserved for former Patriot Aaron Hernandez, if found guilty.
Sherman was the salutatorian of his high school graduating class at Dominguez High in Compton, Calif.
He graduated from Stanford with a degree in, what else, communications.
The Seahawks corner told reporters he felt that “thug” had been used as a code word — “the accepted way now to call someone the N-word.”
“I know some real thugs, and they know I’m the farthest thing from a thug,’’ said Sherman. “I fought that my whole life because of where I’ve come from. You have a guy from Compton or Watts, they just think he’s a thug. He’s a gangster. You fight it for so long, and to have it come back up and hear people use it again is frustrating.”
He added, “It’s the old cliché: Don’t judge a book by its cover. But they are judging the book by its cover . . . Now, if I had gotten arrested 10 times, I could accept being a villain. But I’ve done nothing villainous.”
Last time I checked, acting like a truculent buffoon in front of a microphone wasn’t a crime. In fact, it seems to be encouraged in this country.
The real loud and clear statement made by Sherman’s postgame comments is that stereotyping African-American males is still an American pastime.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.