Miami Hurricanes coach ‘irritated’ over ‘thugs’ comments

Hurricanes safety Sheldrick Redwine, shown here modeling UM’s Turnover Chain against Virginia Tech. (Palm Beach Post)

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CORAL GABLES — He didn’t specify who said what and where, but UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown spoke out Tuesday against the perception that Miami is a team of “thugs.”

His comments came from a question, after Tuesday’s practice, about the Turnover Chain that’s gone national.

“I get irritated hearing some comments that people make about our players, historically, our players, currently, using the words like ‘thug,'” Brown said.  “That’s idiotic people. You don’t know our kids at all. Because they enjoy it, they show up and have a good time in a respectful way. We don’t get flags. We don’t do disrespectful stuff outside the football field. Judge us by that, instead of giving your own notion about what you think a thug is — because I could direct your attention toward the true thugs around this country that aren’t our guys at all.”

Ryan Yousefi of the Miami New Times wrote a strong piece on the issue, exploring where the “thug” comments came from. As usual, you can thank Twitter for such malarkey.

Is any college athletics program filled with choir boys? No. Did Miami’s celebratory antics in the 1980s make a lot of people dislike them? Sure.

But let’s talk about how wrongheaded the “thug” business is.

Miami, in fact, was the No. 1 FBS football program last year in the NCAA’s community service competition. Players are required to put in hours in the offseason visiting parks, schools and places of charity, and in my experience covering those events, they do so eagerly. UM has players like Demetrius Jackson (a budding politician with big goals of helping his community), Chad Thomas (organizing a Christmas toy drive) and Braxton Berrios (finalist for the “Academic Heisman”).

And they have a Cuban link chain with a gaudy, glittering pendant, which players wear after they get a turnover in a game. “Good, clean fun,” according to Richt.

“I don’t see our guys taunting anybody or making fun of anybody,” he said. “I see them just enjoying the pure joy of making a big play and having your teammates and fans celebrate with you.” He added a note of appreciation for all the Turnover Chain t-shirts and replica necklaces in the stands, and wondered how many would be given as Christmas gifts next month.

So, back to the deeper issue at hand:

The word “thug,” for those aware, has a racially charged meaning (discussed in further detail here and here). From Yousefi’s piece:

The truth is that ‘thug’ today is a nominally polite way of using the N-word,” John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, recently told NPR. “Many people suspect it, and they are correct. When somebody talks about thugs ruining a place, it is almost impossible today that they are referring to somebody with blond hair.”

This Hurricanes team has done nothing to deserve a “thug” label other than simply having some talented stars who are black and who have embraced hip-hop culture with the team’s gold “turnover chain.”

In fact, this Miami team has had almost no off-the-field discipline problems. The Florida Gators just this season have nine players who’ve faced multiple potential felony charges related to an alleged credit card fraud scheme. There’s a fair argument that in recent years, fellow Sunshine State programs in Gainesville and Tallahassee have both established much worse off-the-field reputations than UM.

Yet if you paid attention to Twitter this weekend, it was Miami full of thugs. Weird!

Weird, indeed. And flat wrong.

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