The word "thug" has been used so many times by the same sort of people about the same sort of thing that it's no longer even accurate to call it code—it's really more of a shorthand. It means a Black guy who makes White folks a little more uncomfortable than they prefer. On Sunday night, Richard Sherman made a lot of people uncomfortable. Then on Monday, people said thug on TV more often than on any other day in the past three years.
The numbers here come from iQ Media1, and they're based on every closed caption that ran in every market in the country over the past three years. As you can see above, Monday was more "thug"-heavy than any day in the past few years. iQ Media says 625 "thug"s across all markets, while competing service TVEyes says 524 so far today, but just 269 yesterday. Both have today and yesterday as massive spikes. ESPN, to its credit, appears to be on the hook for just two "thugs" all of yesterday. CBS was the overall leader by iQ's count, but that number is slightly inflated because of a mention on the national broadcast of the creatively bereft ratings graveyard Intelligence, which went out to a bunch of local affiliates.