"Thug” is a euphemistic racial slur, and Richard Sherman knows it.
The Seattle Seahawks cornerback has found himself at the intersection of sports and sociology since his exuberant interview following his game-ending play Sunday night to send his team to the Super Bowl.
Sherman loudly proclaimed himself the best player in the NFL at his position and insulted San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree, whom he was matched up against for much of the game, as Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews looked on.
He made similar comments just before that interview to a reporter from the Spanish-language Fox Deportes.
The nationally televised exchange immediately sparked thousands of social media posts, many of them using explicit racial slurs – along with one that’s gained popularity as a stand-in for another, more caustic one, and Sherman said that particularly bothers him.
"The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it's an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now," he said during a Wednesday news conference. "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.”
A Deadspin analysis found that the word “thug” had been used 625 times on American television on Monday, more than any other day in the previous three years.
"The word 'thug' has been used so many times by the same sort of people about the same sort of thing that it's no longer even accurate to call it code — it's really more of a shorthand," wrote Deadspin's Kyle Wagner. "It means a black guy who makes white folks a little more uncomfortable than they prefer."
Sherman questioned the definition of a thug – which specifies a brutal or violent element – and asked why that should apply to his postgame interview and not, for example, a game-opening brawl during a hockey matchup Saturday between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.
“There was a hockey game,” he said. “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.”
Sherman, who was a straight-A student at Dominguez High School in Compton, California, and graduated from Stanford University, said he found that word particularly hurtful – and inaccurate.
"I know some 'thugs,' and they know I'm the furthest thing from a thug," Sherman said. "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 frustrating," he said.
Watch this video report posted online by ESPN.com: