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Duke: A thug by any other name

Posted: January 25, 2014 - 5:23pm

In Texas, particularly in Waco, Texas, a person’s grocery needs are met by the company H-E-B. While some would pronounce it by the letters, many Baylor University students would shorten it to the “heeb.” And the one closest to campus was also in an undesirable part of town. That one affectionately became known as the “ghetto heeb.”

I frequented the ghetto heeb on many occasions, and I lived close by — what we decided was the ghetto. My apartment was even buglarized once. While the area wasn’t the most attractive, it was populated by a number of private school students with better than average cars and possessions. We were not in the “ghetto.” We just weren’t in a gated community.

We used the term with a bit of irony, but it can do a disservice to those who actually grow up and struggle in a ghetto. We know nothing of ghettos. We also know nothing of thugs.

Richard Sherman, the Stanford-educated, dreadlock-wearing, foundation-starting cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, is the newest member into the “thug” club. He would like to let people know what he thinks of the word.

“The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now,” he said. “It’s like everybody else said the N-word and then they say ‘thug’ and that’s fine. It kind of takes me aback and it’s kind of disappointing because they know.”

My Facebook page melted down with posts about Sherman immediately following the NFC Championship game where Seattle defeated San Francisco with Sherman deflecting a potential winning touchdown pass into the arms of his teammate. The pass was intended for San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree, a wide receiver who has been Sherman’s nemesis for more than a year. They most certainly had been jawing back and forth throughout the game.

Following the game-winning play, Sherman engaged in one last taunt of Crabtree, although it was an outstretched hand and an exclamation of “Hell of a game! Hell of a game!” Crabtree responded with a shove in the face. Both actions in the heat of the moment are understandable.

Then Sherman was cornered by Fox reporter Erin Andrews and the communications major from one of the most elite universities in the nation unleashed an 8-second tirade that basically introduced him to the nation with a primal scream and a declaration that he is the best defensive back in the game. He didn’t look happy. He looked defiant, and honestly, it probably scared a lot of white people.

On social media, more than one person declared that Sherman should be suspended for the Super Bowl. Others called him classless (which he probably was in that moment), and still others called him a “thug.” In fact, the website Deadspin noted that the word “thug” was uttered 625 times on American television the day following the Seahawks’ win. That’s more than any other single day in the last three years.

“What’s the definition of a thug? Really? Can a guy on a football field just talking to people [be a thug?],” Sherman said later. “There was a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey! They just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and said, ‘Ah, man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?’ So I’m really disappointed in being called a thug,” he said.

When I was a kid, the word “thug” would bring about images of big, beefy white guys who stood along side the Joker or the Riddler in the Batman television show. That word has taken a different tone in recent years — mainly from a gangster culture that pervades many young people — and Sherman has a point in its use by those who don’t truly know him. There are more and more terms that are hidden in racial tones, and calling a black, aggressive football player a “thug” is one of them.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be the word police. This opinion can come across as being politically correct, but that is not its intent. I’m a fan of more words being used in our language to express exactly how we feel. What I am an opponent of is hiding behind supposedly safe words to say what we mean without coming across as racist or prejudiced.

Sherman could have conducted himself more professionally after the game, but he wasn’t the only one acting like a fool.

(Ricky Duke is the editor of the Log Cabin Democrat. Contact him at ricky.duke@thecabin.net.)

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