As long as we're getting technical on "thug":

thug
1810, "member of a gang of murderers and robbers in India who strangled their victims," from Marathi thag, thak "cheat, swindler," Hindi thag, perhaps from Skt. sthaga-s "cunning, fraudulent," possibly from sthagayati "(he) covers, conceals," from PIE base *(s)teg- "cover" (see stegosaurus). Transferred sense of "ruffian, cutthroat" first recorded 1839. The more correct Indian name is phanseegur, and the activity was described in Eng. as far back as c.1665. Rigorously prosecuted by the British from 1831, they were driven from existence, but the process extended over the rest of the 19c.
Online Etymology Dictionary

But that's not really the point I was trying to make. I was simply observing that the contextual perception of the word "thug" has changed in the last 20-30 years to have more racial connotations.

People are staying away from Pacer games for a million reasons. Race and racism could be a factor for some, but odds are those people were staying away even at the peak of their popularity.

I think, on the whole, Indianapolis is a good sports town, but not a good PROFESSIONAL sports town. Many of the professional sports fans here follow both the Colts and the Pacer, and many have to choose one over the other. Let's face it. These days it's easier to pick the Colts. However, let's not forget just a few scant years ago, it seemed like everyone had the Colts bundled off to LA. It sure seemed like the league wanted it that way.

We will never be like Chicago, who is second in attendance this year despite being a scant 1 game ahead of us. Who was third in attendance in 2003-2004, averaging over 3,000 more fans per game with 23 wins than we did while winning 61.

Some of it's demographics, some of it's culture, some of it's just plain population totals (both citizenry and corporate). On the whole, it's a limitation, but not one that would not allow both the Pacers and Colts to be solidly successful here, if the product is good.

The problem I have with Benner on this article is that he decided to wag his finger at everybody. Rather than saying "Hey, I get why you're frustrated, but here are the reasons we still need to turn out and support the Pacers", he decided to try and push people's buttons by playing the "real sports town" card.