We’re not sure what Gov. Jim Justice does not understand about “words matter,” but certainly, they do, as the governor’s own words this past week prove.

And before we go further, let’s make this clear: We do not believe for a second that the governor is a racist. We do believe he means well for all kids in this state.

But we are not convinced, even now, that the governor understands the underlying social issue that has led to a number of disturbing incidents in our neck of the woods this past year – especially in our high schools. And we hope he uses the power of his position to correct what has become a troubling trend.

It isn’t simply that he called a group of high school girls on the opposing team “a bunch of thugs” after tensions and emotions ran high in a tough and bruising game between Greenbrier East – the team Justice coaches – and Woodrow Wilson High School. It isn’t that Justice resorted to name calling at all, though we have to ask, who does that? While those frame grabs were a bad look for our state, the issue is bigger than all of that. Those incidents are merely the manifestation of the social sickness that is metastasizing beneath the surface.

In his apology tour on Friday, talking to several radio station outlets around the state and to The Register-Herald, the governor said he regretted using the term “thugs” to characterize the Woodrow girls. He begged forgiveness for his ignorance, saying he didn’t realize that the term, in many corners, is regarded as racially derogatory.

He maintained, however, that the Woodrow students caused all of the problems at the Tuesday night game.

“We can’t have student athletes fighting the police,” he told The Register- Herald on Friday night. “We can’t have violence and bullying. We can’t have that stuff. We just can’t.”

Well, we have seen the video of the game and to fault any kid on the Woodrow team is just flat out wrong. And for the record, Woodrow’s assistant coach, Gene Nabors, has been cleared of any infraction by the state’s high school sports authority.

So, yes, one half step forward for the governor and one giant step back takes us all in one direction – backwards.

Enough of that.

Despite what anyone says, the word “thugs” to many is racially charged. Accept that and own it.

If it weren’t, we doubt that The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, ABC News and many other national news outlets would have spent as much digital ink on the story this week as they did.

John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, said in a 2015 NPR interview that the word “is a nominally polite way of using the n-word.”

“When somebody talks about thugs ruining a place, it is almost impossible today that they are referring to somebody with blond hair,” he said. “It is a sly way of saying there go those black people ruining things again. And so anybody who wonders whether thug is becoming the new n-word doesn’t need to. It most certainly is.”

Even closer to home, most everyone picked up on the racial slant.

Said Brandon Steele, a conservative from the governor’s own Republican Party: “I’ll be the first one to tell you that that’s how it struck me when I first read it.”

Beckley attorney Randolph McGraw, who is defending Nabors, told The Washington Post, “Thugs, that’s a modern day term for the n-word. At least around here it is.”

Additionally, police are investigating a racist and misogynistic call – to put it kindly – that was left on McGraw’s office voice mail, apparently aimed at the Lady Flying Eagles.

Isolated incidents?


Gov. Justice, if he took a closer look, would see that our schools would be a good place to start – first by hiring more minorities in teaching and administrative positions.

He could also make certain that there is sufficient security at athletic contests – especially those between noted rivals like East and Woodrow, or Wyoming East and Westside where a similar problem recently reared its ugly head. Any sign of a parent who is causing trouble would be ushered out of the building – immediately.

At some point we have to recognize that we have racial divisions in our communities and, as such, in our schools. And quite frankly, we are tired of apologies. Words certainly do matter, and such incidents have to be called out. But action is more credible.

— The Register-Herald

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