We watch sports, at least in part, because the result is unpredictable.

If only the same could be said for our collective reaction to everything that unfolds before, within and after the games.

Televised athletic events used to be our escape from mindless political debates and the other real, if ill-conceived, divisions that split our country down the middle.

Now, the differences in the way we perceive the sporting universe only amplify the chatter and magnify the rift between well-meaning folk on either side of civility.

To wit, the immediate — and lingering — reaction to Richard Sherman’s me-first celebration/interview/rant with FOX’s Lewiston-born sideline reporter, Erin Andrews, after the NFC Championship.

If you slept through Jan. 19 and the ensuing week of faux-outrage, here’s the skinny:

Sherman, a Seattle Seahawk who makes a tackle once every appearance of the polar vortex and has replaced Darrelle Revis as the national media’s defensive back darling du jour, somehow got his fingertips on the ball that was intercepted by someone else to clinch the Seahawks’ trip to the Super Bowl.

He waited three nanoseconds to run up from behind San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, slap him on the fanny and grunt “good game,” because clearly the immediate aftermath of another’s soul-crushing defeat was the appropriate time and place to engage in such banter.

Crabtree, arguably behaving in a way that could only be described as a human being with pride, pushed Sherman away and suggested that he perform an act on himself that is anatomically impossible. Much macho posturing and chest-pounding ensued.

FOX, showing Sherman’s same exquisite sense of timing, stuck a microphone in the hometown hero’s face. He predictably engaged in a soliloquy of self-love that immediately was perceived one of two ways, and only two ways.

One camp proclaimed it the lowest form of thuggery, even though, with the exception of a few drops of spittle that may have rained upon Andrews’ mystified face, nobody was harmed by it. This reaction resulted mostly from Sherman being a man of color who was not smiling while he spoke. Sorry if the truth hurts.

The other side was all too eager to play that card, of course, because many who do so as a regular course of action in their public lives spend those lives wringing their hands and awaiting opportunities to play it with ghoulish glee.

This crowd lauded Sherman as some sort of modern-day Muhammad Ali, even though many of them aren’t old enough to remember Ali, pre-Parkinson’s. Never mind that Sherman was born in a completely different era, having never been in position of having to conscientiously object to anything (other than Skip Bayless) in his Stanford-educated life.

Neither side was done.

Moralists wanted us to see Sherman’s spout-off as symbolic of western civilization’s continued decline. Suddenly boasting about one’s superior individual ability in a team sport was equivalent to twerking against Robin Thicke.

Apologists, meanwhile, wondered aloud about the credentials of anyone who dared slide his own feet into Sherman’s cleats. Surely you couldn’t understand the adrenaline rush and the level of near-animalistic focus needed to play this most primitive game. It follows that we need to have been heroin junkies at one point in order to hold the opinion that drugs are bad for you, I suppose.

This back-and-forth, all-or-nothing buffoonery, in sports as it is in politics, is the death of real, frank discussion about issues that cry to be addressed.

Is Sherman a depraved thug? Hardly. In light of what we’ve been told of his academic accomplishments this past week, is he ignorant? Quite the polar opposite, actually. But he is judged by some for his hair style, his voice inflection, and worst of all his skin tone, and that is detestable.

It is equally wrong, however, to dismiss this episode as boys-will-be-boys and times-change, with a collective shrug. Those of us who prefer the NFL in which the combatants beat the hell out of each other for three hours, then embrace and crack jokes and kneel together in a prayer circle, shouldn’t be condemned for it.

If us wanting that to be the example our children see as aspiring athletes is the problem, then we’re all in a world of trouble.

And the truth — as is frequently the case in matters that divide us — is somewhere in the middle.

We like our athletes to have an ego. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan were dripping with ego. Bird’s edge was softened naturally. He was the Hick From French Lick. Jordan’s sandpaper was the inescapable flood of commercials that brought him into our homes every day. Both men knew how to turn on the charm when the camera rolled.

You don’t think Sherman’s Super Bowl XLVIII adversary, Peyton Manning, is ego-driven? It’s what brought him back from reconstructive neck surgery. It’s what makes him America’s pitchman. He doesn’t need more gold, either in its jeweled or bankrolled form. He craves it.

It’s OK for Richard Sherman to wants his piece of that pie, and to speak frankly about it in the moment when the most ears are listening and the most eyes are watching.

But likewise, it’s reasonable for me, for you and for others to suggest that he turn it down a few notches, and temper his obvious book-smarts and media savvy with a little common sense.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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