Friday, August 31, 2012


Group of Athletes Marching into to Paralympic Stadium
The 2012 Paralympics opened in London a few days ago.  While at work, I watched part of the Opening Ceremonies from my computer.  As I watched contingents from country after country march into the stadium I was struck by how ordinary the athletes appeared.  Ordinary in this sense is a positive thing.  When it comes to public relations messaging for the disability community and specifically for the dwarfism community, I often say that people with disabilities are just like everybody else or I say people with dwarfism are just like everybody else.  As a large group of athletes in the stadium the Paralympians really did look like other non-disabled athletes or other non-disabled people.  If you focused on one specific athlete, maybe you could see a prosthetic limb or you would notice that an athlete was blind, wore sun glasses and hung onto an athlete nearby as a guide.  But it was easier, and almost more powerful to watch the groups as one body.  That's not say it's better to overlook or ignore the disability.  In most cases, disability is a strong, influential part of who we are as athletes and as individuals.  But taken as a whole, the image of the athletes in the stadium underscores the point that there are so many more commonalities between people with and without disabilities than there are differences.  With this in mind, it is such a shame that people with disabilities are so often judged, treated differently and discriminated against because of their disabilities. 

Scott Danberg with Team USA
Speaking of the Paralympics, congratulations to Scott Danberg.  The London Games are Danberg's fifth Paralympics.  An athlete with dwarfism, Danberg has competed in multiple sports, from power lifting to shot put to javelin.  This year, Danberg was bestowed with the honor of leading Team USA into the stadium while carrying the American Flag. Here is an interview with Danberg on National Public Radio.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bill Veeck and Eddie Gaebel

a photo of Eddie Gaebel batting for the St. Louis Browns
Eddie Gaebel batting for the Browns in 1951
In the previous post, I wrote about a little person who is allegedly the lucky charm for the Milwaukee Brewers.  The most famous little person ever connected to a Major League Baseball Team is Eddie Gaebel.  Gaebel actually played for a baseball team called the St. Louis Browns for one inning of one game in 1951.  Bill Veeck was the owner of the Browns, which was one of the worst teams in the history of baseball. On the 50th Anniversary of the American League, in 1951, as a publicity stunt, Veeck signed Gaebel to a contract and brought him on to the team.  Early in the game, Gaebel was sent to the plate to bat.  He quickly walked on four pitches    
                                                                 then was replaced by a pinch runner. 

Last weekend, as I was looking for information about the Milwaukee Brewer Lucky Charm, stories about Veeck and Gaebel popped up in my internet searches.  As someone who loves baseball and is part of dwarfism culture, I've read stories about Gaebel hundreds of times.  The story is often retold.  This past weekend, when the stories popped up, what I found most interesting was the language that was used.  Back in the 50's, "midget" was the accepted term to identify a person of short stature.  Even recently, when stories about Gaebel were told, the word "midget" was used.  But in my most recent searches, I noticed that some accounts used the word little person.  A piece from a website called Baseball Suite101 actually uses the word "midget" in the headline, then includes a sidebar about the evolution of the word "midget" and uses the term little person in the body of the text.  It's kind of confusing to me why, if they acknowledge the evolution of the language, the website still uses the m-word in the title.  Nevertheless I think it was constructive for the story to make an acknowledgement of language.   Also, a few years ago, a writer from ESPN who was working on a piece about Gaebel contacted Little People of America for guidance on language. 

photo of Bill Veeck with no shirt in the bleachers at Wrigley Field
As I kid, I knew of Veeck as a guy with no shirt hanging out at Wrigley Field
People are short stature still face road blocks to opportunity.  These roadblocks are sometimes physical and sometimes social.  In the grand scheme of things, if a story about Eddie Gaebel uses the m-word, it is probably not that significant of a road block.  But it is heartening and encouraging to witness the evolution of language in stories about Gaebel.  I think it is a reflection of the ground that the dwarfism community has covered and a reflection of how much better the general population now interacts with and responds to the dwarfism community. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


When I was in eighth grade, a few friends and I would go to the high school basketball games on Friday nights.  I think there were five or six of us.  Two of us had older brothers who played for the Sophomore High School team.  We'd watch the sophomore game then, after a break, the Varsity High School Team would play.  The gymnasium typically filled up for the varsity game but wasn't very crowded for the early game, which gave my friends and I more physical and figurative space to engage with the game.  I don't know how many times it happened, but I have strong memories of my friend Tim, whose brother played on the sophomore team, toward the end of the games, pretending he was the coach of the team.  Whenever a time-out was called, he'd tell my other friends and I to huddle up.  From where we sat on the bleachers, we'd look at him and he'd start barking orders to us, make believing that we were players on the sophomore team.  Pointing to one of my other friends, he'd say things like, "Russell, you gotta stick that guy better," or "Mraaz, take it to the hole whenever Hinz feeds you in the lane."  Yet, whenever we huddled up, and my friend Tim went into coach mode, I was never assigned the role of a player on the team.  Even though my brother played for the team (by my brother's senior year, he made varsity), I was never assigned the role of Erick (my brother).  Instead, I was assigned the role of Bucky, the mascot, (Bucky was picked because we lived in Madison, Wisconsin and Bucky Badger was the University Mascot).  Tim would say, "Bucky, we need you.  Cheer louder." 

I was amused by the assignment at the time.  In fact, the name stuck and became one of my nick names in middle school.  I remember playing hockey on the ice rinks after school and my friends whacking their sticks on the ice and yelling, "Bucky," calling for the puck.  I still have somewhat endearing memories of those times in high school even though at some point I realized that assigning the one little person in the group the role of mascot was problematic, being that it reinforces the idea of rubbing the dwarf's head for luck and the idea of objectification if the dwarf is picked as the mascot for no other reason than his or her physical difference. 

A story my mother recently told reminded me of my days as Bucky.  She and my father were at a Brewers game in Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She said that at some point before the game, a little person wearing a Brewer Uniform ran out onto the field to throw out one of the ceremonial first pitches.  She didn't know what to make of it but soon learned the little person was considered the team's lucky charm. She told me she had conflicted feelings about the situation. I agree.  While the crowd responds positively to the little person, and the intent is positive, it's hard to feel good about a situation in which a little person is assigned the role of lucky charm simply because of his physical appearance.  This goes back to traditional stereotypes of dwarfism and traditional roadblocks that are created as a result of these stereotypes.  If a person is defined by his or her physical appearance, it becomes more difficult to be judged according physical and intellectual abilities.  Just ask Paul Miller, the Harvard Law Graduate who was a little persona and was rejected by many law firms because of his physical appearance.

After hearing the story from my mother, I tried to find mention of the little person lucky charm on the Milwaukee Brewer website or anywhere on the internet.  So far, I haven't found anything so it's hard to know just how official the little person lucky charm actually is.  But nevertheless, even if he is an unofficial lucky charm, as my mother said, it still inspires some conflicted feelings.