Sunday, August 28, 2011

Coach in Pacific Northwest initiates change within youth football

Back in March, I went to Freeburg, Illinois with my colleague Ethan. Freeburg's high school is one of about seven in the United States which uses the word midget for its mascot. We stayed in Freeburg for about 24 hours, interviewing groups of students, talking with the Superintendent and the Principal, touring the school, and presenting to the school board. Though Little People of America has identified the word midget as negative and derogatory, we did not ask for the Freeburg mascot name to change. We traveled to Freeburg with the hopes of raising awareness around LPA's perspective of the word. The goal was that in the future, if a question were to be raised about the mascot, the school would consider LPA's perspective. We felt that if the school ever were to change, the change would need to come from within the school system, not from an individual or organization that had very little to do with the school system.

Just over two years ago, when news of an FCC complaint against NBC for its use of the word midget and its negative portrayal of people of short stature gave Little People of America some national exposure around language issues, a Chicago newspaper columnist asked me if LPA would target our advocacy efforts around youth football leagues that use the word midget to identify an age division. I told him LPA would not. Similar to the way Ethan and I approached Freeburg, I told the columnist that LPA's goal is to raise awareness. We couldn't tell outfits like football leagues what to do. But, hopefully someday, the leagues would understand our perspectives and use that information to change the name of the league. Like midget mascots, change within the football leagues would need to come from within.

It appears that for at least one league in the Pacific Northwest, change may soon be here. Last week, news broke that a youth football coach near Seattle spoke out against use of the word to identify youth divisions within football leagues. He doesn't coach within a midget football league, but an upcoming opponent for his team was within the midget division. The coach is an uncle of a young girl with dwarfism. The family relationship with a dwarf gave the coach a perspective unlike anybody else a part of the football league. The coach spoke out publicly, claiming that the league should change its name. There seemed to be a bit of backlash against his comments and in support of the word midget to identify a division, but the coach's comments also generated support. Evidently, enough support to create change. Though I haven't seen anything in the news, I've heard that the league voted to change its name.

The division near Seattle is just one football league. My guess is that there are hundreds around North America that have a midget division. The majority of them probably won't be changing their names anytime soon. But the news of change from the Pacific Northwest is great. It indicates to me that change from within is possible, and that in some places around the country, it will come.

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