On Richard Sherman And The Definition Of A Thug N****

Contributing Writer
01.23.14 39 Comments

Richard Sherman

I’m happy Richard Sherman exists.

Without Richard Sherman and his WWF-esque promo/interview with Erin Andrews Sunday, we would have had nothing but Peyton Manning fluff pieces all week. Instead we get a break in the monotony, we have been treated to something more poignant, something more taboo but something that is also more refreshing.

Instead of long thorough investigations into what “Omaha” means when Peyton uses it during pre-snap reads, we get talented media members exhausting that same energy to touch on racial issues, and what our reactions to the interview say about society as a whole.

As he has done all week, Sherman kept the conversation going Wednesday at a press conference by stating that he believes people’s use of the word “thug,” a word that was bellowed on television Monday more times than any other day in the last three years, has more vitriol in it than people are letting on. Sherman admitted, “The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays.”

The worst part is Sherman’s right.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a “thug” is a “violent criminal.” What did Sherman do in this “incident” that was violent or criminal? The connotation here is that a loud black man is a thug and therefore criminal, because that’s all Sherman was “guilty” of in that interview, being loud and black. This is where it becomes an epithet, and, while people are not literally saying the n-word, it carries the same vicious undertones.

It may be no coincidence that while fighting off the label as a thug, a theme his new Beats by Dre commercial is built upon, he mentioned the league in the “Big 4” that’s the least black, the NHL:

“Maybe I’m talking loudly and doing something I’m not supposed to. But I’m not … 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, ‘Oh, man. I’m the thug? What’s going on here?'”

Another word thrown around with venom at Sherman in the days since was the adjective “ignorant.” Again, the definition of ignorant is not loud or black; it’s uneducated or unsophisticated. The word’s usage carries another set of undertones and subliminal meanings that have people grouping it with other racial slurs Sherman was labeled like “ape” or “monkey.” In this line of thinking, a loud black man is stupid and unruly.

To combat his supposed ignorance, many have used his education and sophistication to Sherman’s defense, but even some of that defense feeds into the same unfortunate type of thinking, even if it’s well-intended. The people who rush to say, “no way he can be ignorant or a thug, he attended Stanford,” should step back for a second and analyze exactly what that stance means. If his status as a Stanford alumni liberates him from these labels, that also means that a person who fits into these stigmas, a loud black person, isn’t capable of attending and graduating from a prestigious university or carrying themselves in a socially acceptable manner.

It’s no surprise that sports is the arena that has ignited such intelligent discussion on racial issues and the language used to describe minorities. In no other section of our community are racial lines so often stubbornly and ignorantly drawn, despite, or maybe because of, the fact that so many of the athletes are minorities themselves. Boxers are promoted, stereotyped and even pitted against each other by race. We stereotype basketball players unflinchingly with white players described as heady and more likely to be rugged, crude hustlers on the court while black players are athletic, flashy dopes. Or how about how the biggest sport in this country has a rule where teams must interview at least one minority-coaching candidate because franchises would probably never hire one if we didn’t have this rule. The world of sports is full of racism, but here they don’t “be concealing it.”

Richard Sherman

If there’s a silver lining for all the racism going on here, it’s this: if raising awareness of these issues is the goal, and for many it is, there couldn’t be a better choice of a spokesperson than Richard Sherman. His now much publicized Cardinal-colored education includes his degree in communications, which will surely aid him as he carries the burden of awareness. This attention-snatching interview may not have been an accident.

As a communications student, Sherman surely knows the value of his words, and how beneficial an opportunity like this can be. So, too, do companies with stake in Sherman, as coincidentally Beats by Dre and Nike rolled out new advertising campaigns that prominently featured Sherman this week. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and appeared on CNN, and in a week where Kevin Durant is going insane and Peyton Manning advanced to his third Super Bowl, he’s been the most talked about athlete in the country. If Sherman’s newly found popularity/infamy and visibility comes with some awareness and education on issues that clearly still exist, then I not only welcome it, but will continue to support it.

Richard Sherman isn’t a thug or ignorant, and thankfully he knows that.

“I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug, I’ve fought that my whole life, just coming from where I’m coming from. Just because you hear Compton, you hear Watts, you hear cities like that, you just think, ‘thug, he’s a gangster, he’s this, that, and the other,’ and then you hear Stanford, and they’re like, ‘oh man, that doesn’t even make sense, that’s an oxymoron.’ You fight it for so long, and to have it come back up and people start to use it again, it’s really frustrating.”

Now, we just have to wait for everybody else to realize it, too.

Previously: On Marshawn Lynch, Sean Taylor And The Perception Of A Thug

Photos: Getty

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