Sunday, February 14, 2010

High school spirit

A year and a half ago, a resident of Dickinson, North Dakota sent me an email. The resident expressed concern about the high school mascot, "Midgets." At the time, I thanked the resident and said that at some point I would, as a member of Little People of America, like to address the issue. I knew then that the major problem with confronting such an issue would be resources. A witness to what has happened with the University of Illinois Mascot, I know LPA doesn't have to the resources to convince a town, no matter what size, to change the name of its mascot.

A few years before receiving the e-mail from Dickinson I was contacted by a member of LPA, who told me about a school in Hurley, Wisconsin and another somewhere in Illinois with midgets or fighting midgets as the mascot. The member suggested I stop worrying about "midget wrestling" and address the issue of "midget" mascots. Since the email from Dickinson, I've received similar emails from one or two others, in different parts of the country. To the best of my knowledge, there are at least four or five schools around the country with "midget" as the mascot.

Though I still believe a volunteer-run organization based in Southern California will have a difficult time persuading a town to change the name of its mascot, I had set myself the goal of organizing and initiating a campaign to confront the issue of mascots before my term as Vice President of Public Relations expires (summer 2011). My vision for the campaign isn't to make specific demands of schools and school boards, but to organize visits to each town, where members of Little People of America would make a presentation at each of the schools and to each school board. In the course of the presentations, we wouldn't ask that the school change the name of its mascot, but we would explain what the word means to us, and explain how difficult it would be to attend the school as a person of short stature and how difficult it would be to send our children to the school. Rather than make demands, we would equip the community with a perspective.

On Tuesday, the Dickinson resident sent me another email. Evidently, at least one member of the School Board wants to raise the issue now. The email included a link to a local story in
The Dickinson Press . The story quoted School Board President Dean Rummel, who expressed concerns about the mascot. Rummel allowed his phone number to be published for the story, and asked that readers call him and share their thoughts. I called the number and left a message. Soon after, he called back. We talked for a little bit. I told him that LPA would support any effort to change the name of the mascot and suggested that LPA plan a visit to North Dakota.

I am excited about the events of the past week. Though I wasn't prepared to start work on a campaign around high school mascots, Dickinson has presented a great opportunity. Considering the support for a name change that exists already in Dickinson, and the fact that a few people have stuck out their necks (in the 1990's, four school board members were 'recalled' for supporting a name change) it would be unwise and unfair and even a bit treasonous not to act now.

It won't be easy. After all, use of the word "midget" for a mascot puts a positive spin on the word, perhaps the only positive use of the word of which I know. The mascot was coined in the mid 20th century, when a radio broadcaster, calling a play by play for the high school basketball team used the word. At one point in the game, the broadcaster referred to the Dickinson team as "our midgets." It was a David and Goliath type reference. The Dickinson team was outsized and over-matched, but they stuck with their opponents, competing with them basket for basket. The name stuck. And decades later, there is a huge amount of pride attached to the mascot.

But for thousands of people of short stature, the reality is that the word is rooted in objectification. Despite the context, the word limits our humanity. The bottom line is, no matter how one defines the word, as I said earlier, if I were a student, or a parent, there is no way I would be comfortable linked to a school with "midget" as the mascot.


  1. Way to go Gary!!! This issue always completely overwhelmed me when I was in your shoes in LPA! Great job!!!!!

  2. thanks Cara. I know what you mean it terms of the magnitude of the issue. I've wanted to look at the issue for a long time but it is overwhelming. I just got lucky that someone from North Dakota took the initiative.