I love many sports, including football. In particular, I love the Chicago Bears and Wisconsin Badgers. Typically, I will make sure to carve out time on Saturdays and Sundays in order to watch the Badgers and Bears Games. Yet, unless the Bears or Badgers win a game, in which case I will watch and read post game analysis, I have never been a fan of listening to people talk about sports. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, instead of watching pregame shows, I scramble to clean my house and finish my work so that I don’t feel guilty watching three or more hours of sports.
With this in mind, I have never watched ESPN’s “College Game Day,” a show on Saturday mornings that previews the upcoming day of college football. But this past weekend, it didn’t take long for me to hear about something that happened on the November 17 episode of “College Game Day.” Since the show’s inception, the program has featured a man named Lee Corso. A former football player and coach, Corso was hired by ESPN in 1987. According to Wikipedia, on the show, Corso plays the role of “comic foil” next to his various co-hosts. His “catchphrase” is “not so fast, my friend,” which he delivers to disagree with a colleague’s prediction about what team will win a game. (In what I think is an interesting footnote, he always holds a pencil when he makes the statement. According to the same Wikipedia post, Corso is the Director of Business Development for a pencil based manufacturing company.)
This past Saturday, Corso delivered his signature line with a twist. Responding to a five-year-old football fan who predicted Yale would beat Harvard, Corso said, “not so fast, midget.” A lot has been said by me, by Little People of America, and by the dwarfism community about the word midget. When raising awareness about dwarfism, among other outcomes, Little People of America hopes that people will stop using the word midget. Nevertheless, we recognize that we will not eliminate use of the word. The question then becomes, how do LPA and the dwarfism community respond when the word is used.
That question came up after Corso called the five year old a midget. Soon after the comment was made, someone posted on LPA’s Facebook page, asking what people thought of Corso’s comment. Someone also sent an email to LPA’s Vice President of Public Relations. The author of the email made some good points. He argued that a response was warranted because ESPN is a major mainstream network, and because many people who watch “College Game Day” will be influenced by what they hear.
Typically, rather than respond to use of the m-word, LPA focuses on proactive outreach. My philosophy is, it is better to invest energy into opening doors than to fight against people that are closing doors. I think that philosophy applies in the case of Corso. Corso may or may not know the impact of the m-word within the dwarfism community. Even if he did know, I don’t think that would have stopped him. (I don’t have anything to base that assumption on except for the fact that later in the telecast Corso strangled a live duck on the air.) After all, Corso plays the role of the comic foil. His use of the m-word is no different than a comedian using the word for a cheap laugh.
Corso’s comment did draw laughs, from his co-hosts and from his viewers. But from what I have found online, his viewers know that there is something wrong with what he said. One writer commented, “I’d hate to be the person at ESPN that is in charge of responding to the hate mail from overly sensitive viewers that object to Lee Corso’s comments, (Lee Corso Calls Cute 5-Year Old A “Midget”).” Another wrote, “Calling a kid a midget in front of millions of viewers probably wasn't the most "politically correct" thing for Corso to say, (Lee Corso calls kid picker a 'midget').” My favorite response included this comment, “In protest of Corso’s use of the word “midget,” not to mention the fact that he just screamed at a little kid on television, I will not be posting video of whatever dumb thing he dressed up as today to make his pick of the week, (Lee Corso Calls 5-Year-Old “Midget” on College Gameday).”
I didn’t like the first two comments. One suggested that anyone who would have a problem with Corso’s use of the word is overly sensitive. The other used the term “politically correct,” which in my opinion always diverts attention away from issues of respect, equality and language. Though I didn’t like the first two comments, both recognized that what Corso said was wrong and inappropriate. These comments provide evidence that more and more people are aware of issues and language related to dwarfism. This evidence is motivation for LPA and others to continue to focus on raising awareness within the general public and not to devote time to spend time to people who use the word.
People out there like Corso, who are just trying to get a laugh, will continue to say offensive, inappropriate things. If we call them on it too often, we will just get into discussions about political correctness and the first amendment. But eventually, if LPA and others continue to raise awareness about diversity and differences, people like Corso will lose their audience. At the very least, the audience will stop laughing.