The Thug Label and Joakim Noah

13 05 2008

Joakim Noah is a thug.

How often do you hear that and what type of feeling does it evoke from you?

I’ve found that some polarizing sports figures like Joakim are being given the “thug” label with reckless abandon. You can make an argument that a few athletes deserve it but most definitely do not.

Joakim is the son of a former professional tennis player turned musician and a former Miss Sweden. He was brought up through private boarding schools until he attended the University of Florida. Additionally, the man can speak fluent French.

Clearly, he does not fit the socio-economic mold of an American “thug.” And although plenty of thugs exist in francophone countries, those applying the thug label to Joakim Noah aren’t being true to form in the first place.

A thug is a violent, petty criminal. The name is derived from an Indian network of robbers and murderers. This definition is the same to most. However, it’s taken on a different spin as several hip-hop musicians have taken to labeling themselves as “thugs.”

Generally, these musicians have used the label purely as bravado. And sadly, as with most things, mainstream America has just as brusquely taken the label from some artists and generalized it. Now it has become a type of scarlet letter, especially for athletes, that deviate from what the public sees as the norm.

After winning the national championship in college, Joakim started dancing and doing sporadic crotch-chops between fits of joy. Thug.

SportsCenter fans saw Joakim’s draft day outfit and immediately came to one conclusion. Thug.

Joakim made a Barack Obama endorsement in French. Thug.

It’s difficult to understand why one person would throw that label out. But when everyone starts throwing it out, things become much clearer. Some people want to neatly place persons into categories. And when a clear anamoly comes along, the categorization is reduced to a rationalized diversion of truth.

Sure, Joakim Noah has had some alleged disputes in the locker room. If you’ve ever played sports, please recall how many times “disputes” can get blown up when taken out of context.

The man can be immature publicly but remember how old he is. He’s a year removed from college and he’s barely 23 years old. Think about the 23-year-olds you’ve known and how they have handled themselves. Now think about those kids being put in the national spotlight with critical media-types dissecting their every move.

I appreciate a kid that cares about the game. And I’ll definitely appreciate someone with a personality trying to be real.

Admit it; Joakim Noah isn’t all that bad.