Of all the words and criticisms and caricatures that have been hurled at Richard Sherman in the last several days, the one that stings him the most is this:
That's the label some have affixed to the Seahawks cornerback since his postgame performance on Sunday. He angrily shouted down 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree moments after Sherman batted away a pass in the end zone that led to an interception that sent Seattle to the Super Bowl.
"The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it's the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word nowadays," Sherman said. "Everybody else says the n-word and then they say 'thug' and they say, 'Oh, that's fine.' That takes me aback. It's kind of disappointing, because they know."
Sherman said he's been pleased with the support he's received since his rant hit the mediasphere and he's been trending on nearly every social network and television station for the last several days. He received a show of support from Hank Aaron on Twitter on Tuesday. And Sherman said he has heard from friends and family with whom he hasn't been in contact for some time.
But the racial tone of the criticism, he said, has been distressing. "We're talking about football," he said, "and some people took it way beyond football."
Sherman is particularly sensitive to those kinds of taunts and terms because of his background. He grew up in a gang-riddled Los Angeles neighborhood before graduating and attending one of the nation's top scholastic colleges.
"I've fought that my whole life coming from where I come from," he said. "You hear Compton, you hear Watts, you hear things 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, 'That doesn't make sense, that's an oxymoron.' You fight it for so long. To have it come back up and people start to use it again, it's frustrating."
Sherman's teammates stood by him. Quarterback Russell Wilson said Sherman has "tremendous character" and said the short viral clip of him "is not how he is day in and day out."
Sherman apologized Monday for overshadowing the team's win, but not for his actions. Asked Wednesday if he regretted the choke sign he gave quarterback Colin Kaepernick after the game-deciding play, Sherman showed no remorse.
"It's Reggie Miller," he said, comparing himself to the former Pacers guard who tormented and taunted the Knicks. "These are rivalries, right?"
While Sherman expressed his disappointment in the backlash, he also had some fun with it. Asked about being cast as the villains in the Super Bowl against Saint Peyton, Sherman laughed.
"That's hilarious," he said. "Anytime you label Russell Wilson a villain, that's gotta be a joke!"
And he pointed to the brawl in the NHL that took place just north of Seattle in Vancouver over the weekend.
"There was a hockey game where they didn't even play hockey," he said. "I saw that and I was like, 'Oh man, and I'm the thug?' "
Sherman insists he's not any of the things he has been negatively described as in the last several days.
"I know some thugs and they know I'm the farthest thing from a thug," he said. "If I had gotten arrested 10 times or committed all these crimes or got suspended for fighting off the field and done all that, then I would accept being a villain. But I've done nothing villainous. I don't think I'm a villain."
So what is he?
"I'm just a very rude football player from time to time."