Ignorant pundits automatically assume a young African-American — whether from Compton or Liberty City — showboating his talents is no different from a criminal who jacks cars or sells crack. If he wears dreadlocks, watch out, because he must be in a gang and he’ll shoot you dead. Closet racists such as ESPN’s Skip Bayliss and Boston sports talk-show hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan (all of whom used the word “thug”) create horrible perceptions of outspoken black athletes. They can’t comprehend that a Rhodes scholar who gets accepted to a major university can come out of Compton.
After the post-game interview, Sherman took to the airwaves and his Sports Illustrated blog to “prove” he is not a thug. But that he had to do so in the first place speaks volumes. According to Deadspin, the Monday following the game, the word “thug” was used 625 times on TV, “more often than on any other day in the past three years.”
The word “thug” has been used so many times by the same sort of people about the same sort of thing that it’s no longer even accurate to call it code—it’s really more of a shorthand. It means a black guy who makes white folks a little more uncomfortable than they prefer.
As Sherman put it:
“The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays,” Sherman said. “It’s like everybody else said the N-word, and then they say ‘thug.’ And that’s fine. That’s where it’s kind of, you know — it kind of takes me aback. And it’s kind of disappointing, because they know. What’s the definition of a thug, really?”