that if you use the word “thug”, you are in fact hurling a racial epithet.

Surprised? I sure was, when I first read about this in Saturday’s AJC article entitled: “What is a Thug?”.

All of this suddenly appears to have come up with the wide reactions to Michael Vick’s latest escapade… being forced to surrender his marijuana transportation container (aka Aquafina Water Bottle Diversion Safe) at the Miami Airport as he passed through TSA security checkpoint on his way to meet his new coach for the first time. Now he wasn’t arrested, because he apparently didn’t have his bottle full of contraband at the time, but certainly did not show very sound judgement for someone who is the “face of the franchise”.

Economic reality means that there’s no way that the Atlanta Falcons would ever cut or trade Vick… even if owner Arthur Blank isn’t happy with him. That’s the fact. But it must be some disappointment to know that your franchise’s star player is a pothead who can’t be trusted off the field. (But in fairness… at least he’s not as bad as his brother Marcus).

Anyway, many fans in Atlanta, very much disappointed in the continued regression in the performance of the Falcons on the field, found Vick’s latest move to be very stupid. And so the article informs… criticizing Vick by calling him a thug is practicing racism:

Considering that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback is not a hardened criminal or known to be a gang member, has the use of the word “thug” about him, and other young black men, started to sound like a racial epithet?

“I’ve been astonished at the blanket bigotry in some cases,” said Jamie Dukes, the 680 the Fan radio talk host and former Florida State offensive guard. “Thuggery denotes a criminal element.”

Now, I really like Jamie Dukes and he usually has some good insight about the game of football. I would have loved to have heard a lot more from him than just the sentance fragment that they quoted in the story… but let’s assume for the moment that he does find it offensive.

Vick’s hip-hop fashion sense, cornrows and jewelry drew as much condemnation in these arenas of public discourse as his string of unrelated personal problems. The incident last week at the Miami airport was the latest to draw attention, with an accusation that Vick tried to take marijuana through the Miami airport dismissed Tuesday. (Earlier this year Vick made an obscene gesture to game spectators and settled a lawsuit alleging he knowingly infected a woman with herpes.)

“It’s become a very racially sensitive discussion,” observes Steak Shapiro, host of 790 The Zone’s “Mayhem in the A.M.” radio talk radio program, with some callers basically saying, “If a white athlete screws up, he’s made a poor decision; if a black athlete screws up, he’s a thug.”

Now I don’t want to nitpick, but Vick was not charged with taking marijuana through the airport security checkpoint. They just noted that he acted suspicious when they took his water bottle and upon further investigation, noted that it had a secret compartment. This was further investigated, but no charges were filed… presumably because there was nothing (or too little) there in the concealed space.

And I can’t discount the fact that there are probably some idiots who might not feel that a black man should be quarterbacking a team in the NFL. But I don’t think that these are the people that are leading the discussion.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there would have been the same reaction if he were white, black, yellow, or blue.

Towards the end of the story, they note that linguistics people are not quite so fast to confirm this trend, but then immediately refute it:

For the record, [Oxford English Dictionary Editor Jesse] Sheidlower has not noted “thug” used as a pejorative term by whites to describe young black men.

Johnson of the Hawks disagrees. “I do think it’s definitely a race-based stereotype. And I think it’s one that, in our culture today, too many people are willing to accept and tolerate, even when they know it’s wrong.”

Then again on Sunday, the ‘thug’ discussion was reinforced in an AJC opinon piece by Angela Tuck:

With his braids, casual style of dress and “doo-rags,” Vick rubs some people the wrong way.

But, explains Wyche, that’s more a generational thing than a race thing.

In no way has Vick earned the “thug” label some bloggers have given him. It bothers me that people are so quick to brand someone they don’t even know. Even more troubling is the fact that “thug” now seems to be a code word for young black men.

“Most people don’t know the definition of a thug,” said Frank Walker, a cornerback for the New York Giants who lives in Atlanta in the off-season. “Thugs rape and murder people. When they run up against a thug, they’ll know [Vick] is not a thug. He’s an individual.”

From flipping off home fans to engaging in self-destructive behavior, Mike Vick is not acting very smart. Whether it’s fair to call him a ‘thug’, or simply a ‘fool’… I guess you can debate the point. But I really don’t think it’s just because he is black. Or a quarterback.

Randall Cunningham is not a thug. He may run his mouth sometimes when he should keep quiet, but so does Rex Grossman, who can barely pass the ball and is white. White NASCAR driver Tony Stewart was acting like a thug two years ago, when he decided to punch out any reporter asking him difficult questions. But he was forced to get his temper under control or risk losing a chance to participate in his profession. And he went on to win the championship.

Ironically, with all of this talk of unfair thuggery labels, there was also an interesting story elsewhere in the AJC this Sunday. It was about Quincy Carter, the former UGA standout who went on to the NFL to start for the Dallas Cowboys. You may remember him. He was another black quarterback drafted at the same time as Vick. Now he’s out of football after a couple run-ins with drugs (failed drug tests and an arrest).

Asked if he is an addict, Carter struggles with the term before slowly finding the words:

“That’s a hard one to answer. I don’t need to smoke weed. I don’t have to. I shouldn’t. I do realize that it’s not good. … You know, I’ll go ahead and humble myself and say that I do think it’s a problem. I am smart enough to know that failing a test, getting arrested — I do have a problem. I just don’t like the word addict.”

People have to have responsibility for their actions. I hope that Quincy gets his life together, now that the glare of the lights of the football field are in the past for him. He doesn’t seem quite there yet. But when we are disappointed in the behavior of our sports starts, let’s never sugarcoat the bad and ignore it, because then it’s never corrected, much to the detriment of athlete as a man.

And let’s stop insinuating that criticism of Vick, or the use of the word ‘thug’, is meant to be racist.

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