Be a Fan of All Athletes Everywhere; Spread the Word to End the Word
I started playing sports when I was 5-years-old. I threw on a cap and a glove and hit the T-Ball field. It wasn’t long after that that I knew I always wanted to be around sports. Technically, I knew I wanted to replace Johnny Bench as the catcher of the Cincinnati Reds. Not long after THAT, however, it became clear that I couldn’t hit a curveball and that my Reds dream was likely out of reach. So I went to work on a different route toward a life in and around sports.
And I have been truly blessed. In what counts as a professional life, I have worked exclusively in sports and sports-related jobs since before I finished college. That proximity to sports at all levels has allowed me to be there in person for some pretty amazing things. I was in the Indiana locker room after Jason Williams missed a game-tying free throw that left Indiana alive and top-ranked Duke out of the 2002 NCAA Tournament. That same night, I was in the same locker room after Kent State had beaten heavily favored Pittsburgh. I’ve watched a guy sink his final free throw of the year to finish the season at 100 for 100. I saw Sheryl Swoopes play live (a completely underrated experience). I was there one Sunday when a guy hit a 35-footer at the buzzer for the win to close out a 39-point effort and almost single-handedly win a State Basketball Tournament. I watched a swimmer stage a furious comeback over the final 10 meters and outreach an opponent to win a National Games Gold Medal by three hundredths of a second. And I’ve seen the difference between a Gold Medal and fourth place in the National Games 100-meter dash be less than a tenth of a second.
The last three things have something important in common. They all happened at Special Olympics events.
For the last 10 ½ years, it has been my honor for my real job to be working with Special Olympics. I have learned so much and met so many amazing people – athletes thrilled to have the chance to compete and to show their communities, their country and the world how much they can accomplish when doors are opened to them and people believe in them and help them learn and train to become the best athletes they can be. It is a program that means so much to so many athletes and their families and that truly changes the lives of the people involved.
Over that same time, I have become keenly aware of the hurtfulness of a word that many of us (including myself at one point) rarely give another thought. That word is “retard” or retarded, or any of the other variations you can think of. Used from the highest reaches of power to playgrounds across the country, the word signals that the user thinks that the person they’re talking to or about is stupid, insignificant or worse.
People with intellectual disabilities are none of those things. They are in many ways very gifted – maybe as athletes, maybe as singers, maybe as artists or in any other number of fields. They are hard workers. They are great friends. And they serve as a daily inspiration to me and to anyone else who has taken the time to really see the grace with which they overcome the obstacles they face every day to lead rich, productive, fulfilling lives.
Wednesday, March 7, is Spread the Word to End the Word Day, sponsored by Special Olympics and Best Buddies. The goal is to stamp out the use and acceptance of a word that is every bit as hurtful and derogatory as any number of words that most people would never think of using in a conversation.
I am asking you to join me in taking the pledge to End the R-word. You can sign up today at www.r-word.org. Pledge not to use words like “retard” and “retarded” and ask your friends to do the same.
I ask you today to Be a Fan of respect. Be a Fan of hard work. Be a Fan of fun. Be a Fan of all athletes of all abilities. Take the Pledge and help Spread the Word to End the Word today.