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Thug, the Acceptable “N-Word”

Richard Sherman

Though the Super Bowl has come and gone, with the Seattle Seahawks emerging victorious after a decisive win over the Denver Broncos, one incident that took place before the Super Bowl has stuck with me. To get to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks had to take on the San Francisco 49ers and that game came down to the wire, the winner decided by a pass intended for 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree being deflected by Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, effectively ending the game.

Immediately following the Seahawks victory, Richard Sherman was interviewed by reporter Erin Andrews, an interview that would quickly become infamous. Sherman’s crime? He was loud, passionate and animated, towering over the comparatively small and seemingly defenseless Erin Andrews. Rendered practically speechless by Sherman’s bold rant, it seemed as though all she could do was to keep her composure and avoid running away clutching her purse.

That is, if you believe the media’s portrayal of it.

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As a result, throughout social media Richard Sherman was called a nigger and a monkey. But that is to be expected. The promise of supposed anonymity combined with the internet’s unique ability to allow anyone’s split second knee-jerk reactions to be broadcast to a wide audience often catches closet racists with their pants down as they’re overcome by impotent rage and reach for their smartphones. But the most unfortunate term to have been used has to be the word “thug”.

According to Gawker Media website Regressing, the word “thug” was used in the fallout from Richard Sherman’s post-game interview over six hundred times.

And how was he a “thug”? Does screaming, not at, but in the presence of a female reporter make him a thug? Does calling out another player make him a thug? Unprofessional, perhaps, arrogant, yes, but not thuggish.

For a moment, let’s go back to the moment in question to try to put the rant into context. Richard Sherman had just made the most important play of his career, tipping the ball away from Michael Crabtree and into the hands of teammate Malcolm Smith, (who would later be voted Super Bowl MVP) to effectively end the game and send the Seattle Seahawks to their second Super Bowl and the first of Sherman’s career. In the next moment, Sherman went over to Crabtree and offered to shake his hand while saying “hell of a game” and Crabtree, also caught up in the moment, shoved Sherman away by his facemask.

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With all the adrenaline that had to have been pumping through Richard Sherman’s veins, it’s understandable that he would be fired up and emotional during a post-game interview mere moments preceding the biggest and most important victory of his short career. Yes, it was unprofessional, and yes it could’ve been handled better, but it was not indicative of a thuggish nature, just an impulsive one. Football is a highly charged sport and tensions run high between teams and players, especially considering these are two divisional rivals.

As for me, I’d never paid much attention to Richard Sherman prior to this for a number of reasons, some outside of my control. He’s a player I’ve recognized as excellent at his position but I rarely get to see him play. But with all the recent scrutiny that has befallen him, I’ve come to know more about the man behind the rant and just how far away from a thug he actually is. This is a man who graduated from high school with a 4.1 GPA before moving on to Stanford University, where he later graduated with a 3.7 GPA.

But if you know anything about Richard Sherman, you probably already knew that, right? I certainly did, even before this rant. Coming from where he came from (a little place called Compton) to have done as much good as he has in his short few years in the league, I’d say I’m positively shocked to see such backlash against him but since I have a pretty good idea of how society typically reacts to this sort of thing, I know better. And really, do I need to hammer the point home even further?

What has me positively tickled is that, not even a week removed from Sherman’s now infamous rant, here we have Justin Bieber being arrested for drag racing and being under the influence and public perception of him has been largely skewed toward painting him as a “misguided child” rather than the delinquent he’s turning out to be based on a long string of bad behavior and a series of arrests.

Oh, and he’s most recently turned himself in to Toronto police after an alleged assault on a limo driver.

Some argue that these recent behaviors are an attempt by Bieber to create a thug “persona” and distance himself from the bubbly, tweener pop image he’s acquired over the years. And that little distinction makes all the difference. For Bieber, he’s just creating a persona. For Sherman, being a thug isn’t a persona, it’s who he is.

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When Republican Congressman Michael Grimm threatened to throw a NY1 reporter over a balcony on camera after being asked a question he didn’t want to answer, where were the allegations en masse of him being a thug? Here we have actual threats of violence and intimidation tactics being used against a reporter for doing his job and I’ve yet to see backlash in the same ballpark as that which befell Richard Sherman for talking loudly immediately after a game. More than a week later, the issue seems to have faded from the public eye.

So, tell me again…who’s the “thug”?

The problem with the use of the word “thug” to describe Richard Sherman isn’t so much that it’s hyperbole of the worst kind. The bigger issue stems from the fact that the word is thrown around far too often, especially in regard to men of color. The stereotype of the angry black man permeates the media’s portrayal of black men and has taken root within societal consciousness.

In this instance, and many more like it, the word “thug” has merely become an acceptable stand-in for the word “nigger”, a word for everyone racist enough to want to call Richard Sherman a nigger but smart (and, yes, cowardly) enough to avoid saying it in the public eye. This isn’t a case of a simply innocuous misuse of a word or a mere Freudian slip of sorts, which saw the world belching a word that didn’t fit the situation. No, this is a sign of a deeper, systemic problem with our view of large, black men the instant their voices rise above some sort of acceptable decibel baseline.

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But, at the end of the day, Richard Sherman’s attitude is of little consequence. He and the Seahawks went on to absolutely demolish the Denver Broncos, 43 – 8 to earn their first Super Bowl win in franchise history. He and the Legion of Boom proved too much for the Peyton Manning and the Denver offense to overcome and Sherman sufficiently backed up his talk. Will this be the end of the “thug” comments? I doubt it. In the offseason, the comments will fade but the instant something similar happens again, they’ll pop right back up, and the cycle will start over again.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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