"In June 1969, in Toronto, Ontario, the very first Special Olympics competition was held in Canada, less than one year after the sports movement was born on Chicago’s Soldier Field. It attracted 1,400 individuals with intellectual disabilities from towns and cities across the country who came to compete in athletics, aquatics and no surprise here, floor hockey."
This year the Special Olympics (Canadian site) is launching a new campaign on March 31: Spread the Word to the End the Word. Special Olympics is asking us to recognize and rethink our use of the word "retard," or the "R-word."
"Most people don't think of this word as hate speech, but that's exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends. This word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur."
I thought that this was something we had all learned a long time ago but I have noticed the resurgence of the word over the past few years. I thought perhaps the word had lost its connection to a group of people, but it turns out I thought wrong. I actually used "retarded" as an adjective last week. I noted it because I was shocked to hear that word coming from my mouth for the first time since my playground days when I was sharply chastised for it. I am still not clear why it happened. I thought that I needed to check myself. And I thought about how common usage can enter, or re-enter, our lexicons so easily if we are not paying attention.
It is something even the mightiest of us are learning, or re-learning. Last Thursday, on The Tonight Show, President Obama said his bowling skills are "like Special Olympics or something." He was trying to make a self-deprecating joke of course, but then realized that he had instead insulted a whole group of people. On his way home, Obama called the Special Olympics Chairman, Timothy Shriver, to apologize for the remark.
I guess, at least for the President and me, this campaign could not come at a better time.
You can learn more about the campaign and make a pledge at http://www.r-word.org/.