Sunday, December 14, 2014

M-Word Backlash

Years ago, after former Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator went to the Carolina Panthers as Head Coach, he referred to Rex Grossman, the Bear's quarterback, as a midget. The alleged comment received a lot of media attention, and the comment was recognized as an insult. I wrote a response to the Chicago Sun-Times, which published the letter. As far as I remember though, and from all that I can find now on the internet, non of the media attention referenced the impact of the comment on the dwarfism community.

This year, another NFL Football Coach used the m-word. Again, it was used in reference to a quarterback. Marvin Lewis is the coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals play the Cleveland Browns today, (December 14). Earlier this week, when asked how the team would prepare for the Browns' quarterback, Lewis said, "You've got to go defend the offense. You don't defend the player, particularly a midget."

At least seven years passed between the time Rivera made his comment, and when Lewis used the m-word. In that time, many efforts have been made to raise awareness about dwarfism and language. Little People of America launched a Dwarfism Awareness Month. More reality programs that feature the lives of everyday dwarfs have been introduced on television. Peter Dinklage has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

If the response to Lewis' m-word comment is any indication, that awareness has made a difference. There was immediate reaction to Lewis' use of the m-word. With the internet and with social media, the speed of the response is not a surprise. What is a surprise, at least in my opinion, is the content of the response. Some critics commented about not just the impact that the slur would have on Manziel, the Cleveland Quarterback, and the Browns. They also pointed out the impact the slur would have on the dwarfism community.

Over Twitter, Michael David Smith, the Managing Editor of Pro Football Talk, wrote, "Many people of short stature consider "midget" a slur. Marvin Lewis shouldn't say it. Neither should the rest of us." On the ESPN Radio Show, "Highly Questionable," someone said, "if the public does not perceive the M-word as a slur, it's because they don't know any lps."

Smith didn't stop with his original comment. Soon after he used the m-word, Lewis issued an apology. Primarily, Lewis apologized to Johnny Manziel. Smith didn't think the apology covered everyone. He expected more. In a column titled, "Marvin Lewis' apology is Lacking," Smith wrote, "Lewis failed to mention people of short stature, the people who, by extension, Lewis was really insulting."

Soon enough, Lewis issued a second apology. In that apology, he extended his regret to "all others I have offended." 'All others' is kind of vague, but earlier in his comments, Lewis said that he had studied the Little People of America website. With that in mind, it's easy to infer that Lewis intended to include people with dwarfism in his apology. After the second statement from Lewis, several other outlets mentioned the Little People of America website, including the New York Times.

All in all, a week that started with a high profile football coach using the mword ended up all right for the dwarfism community. The media rallied in support of the community, and that same coach, not to mention one of the most high profile newspapers in the world, mentioned the LPA Website. If I were to give out a game ball, it would go to Michael David Smith. He was out in front of the pack, holding Lewis accountable when the coach made the disparaging remark, and Smith didn't let up until Lewis apologized to people with dwarfism.

To Smith -- Many Thanks.

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