Only certain people can use the word “thug”

by Cameron Coyle


I don’t think John Beilein misspoke, slipped or got tongue-tied. 

The head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers was forced to issue an apology after using the word “thugs” in describing his team’s play. The 66-year-old Beilein complimented his team for no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs” despite their recent five-game losing streak.

Beilein claims he meant to say the word “slugs” instead.

Personally, I don’t Bei-lieve Beilein. 

The two words roll off the tongue differently, and had Beilein truly meant to say “slugs” he would corrected himself on the spot. Instead, Cavs GM Koby Altman approached Beilein and discussed the incident with his coach after players and staff started talking internally.  

Of course, I would have respected Beilein had he admitted his intent to use the word “thugs”, but the first-year NBA coach is simply trying to save face. Regardless, the Issue never seems to be as monumental as the progressive media wants you to believe. Larry Nance, Jr., an African-American and an assistant on Beilein’s staff, wasn’t too startled after hearing the coach use the thug reference. 

“It wasn’t one of those things that like, ‘How dare you?”’ Nance told ESPN. “At second glance, yes. We realized he was wrong, he realized he was wrong. That’s why he doubled back afterward, but at the time it happened, it didn’t catch me right away.” 

ESPN’s Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story Wednesday night, but by Thursday morning even the talking heads at ESPN couldn’t quite agree that saying “thug” was across the board offensive. 

“I don’t give a damn if he did say the word thug,” shouted Stephen A. Smith during Thursday’s edition of First Take, “If I were a GM or a President of Basketball Operations I’d make sure I’d have a thug on my team. I don’t think it’s a negativity.”  

We can interpret NBA thuggery differently, but the league has far less of these “thug-like” players than they did just 30 and 40 years ago during the days of Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer.

Suffice to say, the New York Knicks of the 1990s had more thugs on their team than today’s NBA rosters combined.

Regardless, Beilein was apparently wrong for using the word at all. 

Why? Because he’s a white male coupled with today’s oversensitive political climate where society dissects every noun, verb and adjective in an attempt to be outraged. 

Keep in mind, the President of the United States has even referred to U.S. Citizens as “thugs,” and no one seemed to have a problem with it. Then again, it wasn’t the current President or there would be a nation-wide revolt. 

In 2015, Barack Obama referred to the people of Baltimore as “thugs who tore up the place” and former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake mentioned “the thugs who only want to incite violence.” 

Neither reference had a positive connotation in  in the wake of the death of Freddy Gray when storefronts were smashed, stores were looted and police cars were damaged. Yes, thugs had taken over the city of Baltimore at the time and few people would disagree these thugs were completely out of control.  

But according to John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, use of the word “thug” is only deemed acceptable if that person is African-American. 

“A thug in black people’s speech is somebody who is a ruffian, but in being a ruffian is displaying a healthy sort of countercultural initiative, displaying a kind of resilience in the face of racism,” McWhorter told NPR in 2015, “Of course nobody puts it that way, but that’s the feeling. And so when black people say it, they don’t mean what white people mean, and that’s why I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Barack Obama saying it means something different from the white housewife wherever who says it.

So according to McWhorter, who deems himself some expert in language and linguistics, the meaning of the word “thug” can have different interpretations and definitions purely based on that’s person cultural background, and when black people use it, there’s a certain toughness and resilience that comes with using the word “thug.”

Since Stephen A. doesn’t always subscribe to this ever-changing progressive narrative, the World Wide Leader leaned on WNBA veteran Chiney Ogwumike to provide a more “woke” approach.

“There’s a big difference between a black female woman telling us things that we’ve heard from our culture – and even though they may be suitable in that environment – we understand there’s nothing lost in translation, Ogwumike told the panel, “:But there is a different gap between coach Beilein, his players and the NBA. When those things come out, they can get lost in translation.”

Translation, it seems, can only come in the form of skin color and the interpretation of that message is based solely on the racial makeup of the person delivering it.   

Since when do words change their meaning based on the source of the quote?

Welcome to cultural appropriation in 2020.