After Seahawks player Richard Sherman continued to trash talk a rival during his post-game interview, letting his testosterone and adrenaline get the better of him, I knew what would happen next. Some would turn him into a meme, and others would almost certainly call him a n*gger. [Side note: the NFL has released a longer version of the events of the day that show Sherman’s “rant” didn’t come out of left field].

Never mind that Sherman graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA. Never mind he went to Stanford, graduated with honors, and is currently working on a Master’s degree. Never mind he just made the play of his life and sent his team to the biggest game in pro football. None of that mattered. In the span of 30 seconds he was reduced to an asshole, a thug, and a n*gger.

Much has been written about the reaction to Sherman’s rant. Many have said it highlights America’s true colors and proved we are not as post-racial as we’d like to believe (duh). But as soon as I saw it I knew: ish was about to hit the fan…again.

After the rant-heard-round the ‘net, Richard Sherman took to the airwaves and his Sports Illustrated blog to “prove” he is not a thug. But the fact 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.” And while many didn’t hide their racism, trotting out every slur and stereotype in the book to lob at Sherman, others couched their racism within the loaded term: “thug.” It’s a sentiment Sherman called “disappointing.”

The cornerback explained: “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?”

CNN’s Don Lemon posed the same question when he wondered, “Is thug a racist term?” Although Lemon concluded that “thug” has been used by a myriad of cultures and communities, he told viewers that avoiding the “thug” label is simple:

“If you don’t want to be treated like a thug or be considered one, then don’t act like one,” Lemon told his CNN audience.

But as Sherman’s post-game interview proves, getting hit with the “thug” label doesn’t require you break the law, menace others, or threaten those around you. All it requires is that you’re Black, boisterous, and in the public square.

What do you think? Is Richard Sherman right? Is “thug” the new n-word?  

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