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Here's why Seahawks' Richard Sherman was right in comparing being called a thug to a racial slur

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

If you think Richard Sherman made a statement on Sunday night, you should listen to what he said on Wednesday.

At a news conference in suburban Seattle, he brought up a word that has been used too easily and abused too much.

That word is "thug."

"It seems like the accepted way of calling someone the n-word," Sherman said.

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Richard Sherman will be a media attraction during Super Bowl week. (AP)

He might not be exactly right, but he's close enough. Too often "thug" is a cleaner version of a racial epithet, directed at African-Americans (sometimes by other African-Americans). That word was attached to Sherman almost immediately after he called out 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree following his game-saving play in the Seahawks' 23-17 victory over San Francisco.

By contrast, Tom Brady left the field screaming at a referee after a controversial call in a loss to the Carolina Panthers in December. Brady didn't slow down to congratulate anyone on the other team. He could be heard using more offensive language than Sherman did on Sunday.

Not many called Brady a thug.

The word has been bastardized and adulterated for years, even centuries. According to Urban Dictionary, a thug is "someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug, and the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster. Look up gangster and gangsta. Not even CLOSE, my friend."

Sherman, a Stanford graduate with a big bank account, is not going through struggles. Not in that sense, anyway.

The colloquial (or "urban") definition comes from the late rapper Tupac Shakur. The actual definition, from the dictionary, is even further removed from how it's being used now. A "thug" in the literal sense is a "violent criminal."

Sherman is hardly a violent criminal. Calling himself the best cornerback in the NFL is not the trademark of a violent criminal. Nor is insulting Crabtree in a televised interview with Erin Andrews. Nor is yelling. In that sense, Rep. Joe Wilson is a "thug" for screaming, "You lie!" to President Obama during his State of the Union address in 2009.

Wilson is not a thug. Brady is not a thug. Sherman is not a thug.

Let's go further back, to the origins of "thug."

"Thuggee" referred to an Indian network of gangs known for brutal robberies in the 17th century. It's unlikely anyone called Sherman a thug as a callback to the Hindi roots of the word. (Though if you're calling Sherman a "thug" for robbing Crabtree of a touchdown catch, then maybe you've got a point.) Sherman raised the point on Wednesday that an NHL brawl broke out over the weekend between Vancouver and Calgary, and still he was called a "thug."

"There was a hockey game where they didn't even play hockey, they just threw the puck aside and started fighting," he said. "I saw that, and said, ‘Oh man, I'm the thug? What's going on here?'" But the hockey players aren't really thugs, either. They're just hockey players.

The word shouldn't be used at all, really. It's ugly. It's borderline racist. And in pretty much every case, it's the wrong word. Do a web search for Trayvon Martin. The word "thug" will likely come up. That's a clear but tragic example of how "thug" is too often used.

This isn't to say Sherman shouldn't be criticized. His "choke" sign was classless and inappropriate. His use of the postgame platform to settle an old score rather than credit his teammates wasn't all that admirable either. And his pat of Crabtree on the backside was a taunt, and beneath him.

Many words can apply to those actions: obnoxious, annoying, rude, selfish, tasteless, unprofessional.

Just not thuggish or thug-like.

Perhaps Sherman's comments will start a national discussion of the word "thug," and all its connotations. Many in the African-American community have detested this word for years. What Sherman said Wednesday may be surprising to some, but it's obvious to others.

Super Bowl week has a rare power. Last year's big story involved a homophobic comment from 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver. That turned into a lesson for a lot of athletes in the NFL and elsewhere. Nobody likes the P.C. Police, especially during events where many just want to focus on football, but would the world be worse off if "thug" was discarded?

Sherman knows everyone is watching, and listening. He's not holding back. Maybe that makes him a rabble-rouser. Maybe it makes him a leader. Maybe it makes him an opportunist.

It sure doesn't make him a thug.


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