West Virginia's governor has issued a statement defending his remarks describing coaches and players of an opposing basketball team as "thugs," which critics have said is a racially charged term.
Gov. Jim Justice (R) told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it was "totally absurd" to accuse him of racism after he referred to coaches and players on the Woodrow Wilson High School girls basketball team as "a bunch of thugs" after the Woodrow coach reportedly got into an altercation with a fan at a game.
Justice, who coaches high school basketball for rival Greenbrier East High School, told a reporter for The Register-Herald that the opposing team and coaches acted improperly during a recent match between the two schools.
“I hate to say it any other way, but honest to God’s truth is the same thing happened over at Woodrow two different times out of the Woodrow players,” he reportedly said. “They’re a bunch of thugs. The whole team left the bench, the coach is in a fight, they walked off the floor, they called the game!"
“They don’t know how to behave and at the end of the day, you got what you got,” he added.
At least one Democratic lawmaker called the term racist, noting that the coaches and many players on the Woodrow team are black, according to the AP. Justice dismissed that criticism, calling for "zero tolerance" of bullying.
“My definition of a thug is clear — it means violence, bullying, and disorderly conduct. And we, as West Virginians, should have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. Anyone that would accuse me of making a racial slur is totally absurd,” Justice said.