Special Olympics Letter to Madonna

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Letter from Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver to Madonna after calling Guy Ritchie "emotionally retarded"

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  • i love you special olympics so much iam a special olympics athlete as well and will allways bee i love you special olympics so much love nadine dambra
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  • lets stop that nasty r word okay madonna was wrong to use that nasty r word in front of millions of people that r word is insulting and dissgracefull and i love you special olympics so much too i am a special olympics athlete too and i will allways love you special olympics love nadine dambra
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Special Olympics Letter to Madonna

  1. 1. October 21, 2008 Dear Madonna: I heard with great disappointment your reference to Guy Ritchie as an “emotional retard” in front of 20,000 fans at your concert in Boston on October 15th. I understand your insult was meant for Mr. Ritchie. I fear, however, that by using the word “retard” as the crux of your insult to conjure up images of buffoonery, haplessness, and worthlessness, you inadvertently dehumanize people with intellectual disabilities and perpetuate painful stereotypes that are a great source of suffering and negative stigma. I am asking that next time, you choose your words more carefully. For centuries, people with intellectual disabilities have borne the stigma of institutionalization, sterilization, social isolation, and bigotry. The names associated with them – such as “moron” and “retard” – have for too long been used as cruel taunts. Gaining recognition of their humanity continues to be an elusive goal for them and for those who love and care about them. Despite the searing pain that this word (and others) has visited on millions, people with intellectual disabilities have nonetheless persevered. For half a century, mothers, fathers, siblings, and people with intellectual disabilities themselves have worked to open the eyes of the world to the simple truth that each of us has gifts to offer. The continued use of these words, in any context, only serves to stagnate this understanding within our society and allows the world’s eyes to remain shut. The good news is that the world has begun to change. Classrooms in many places are now places where children who have exceptional needs and gifts are welcomed. Families have begun to welcome group homes as part of a vibrant community life. Employers have begun to recognize in people with intellectual disabilities loyal and effective members of a team. In my own work in Special Olympics, we have begun to see a groundswell of interest from many sectors of social life – teachers, health professionals, coaches, scholars, young people. Thousands are joining our work for the experience of playing together and learning the great lessons of life on fields dominated by the courage and joy of Special Olympics athletes. Slowly, the world is beginning to change; slowly we are coming to understand that each of us is gifted in unique ways. It is true that most people who use the r-word in a mocking way are barely aware of its painful and pejorative connotation. As a result, great heroes like Special Olympics athlete Loretta Claiborne, are visiting school after school to explain that "retard" is a word that caused them unbearable pain as children just as it continues to reflect deep misunderstanding today. Loretta has the courage to face her disability in public, to ask that others treat her with respect, and to ask for more sensitive and caring attitudes in the future. In response, many are joining her and Special Olympics in asking children to pledge never to use the word again – not as a joke, not as a description of behavior, not as an epithet. 1133 19th Street, NW / Washington, DC 20036 USA / (202) 628-3630 / www.specialolympics.org
  2. 2. In my own experience, when I ask children – be they first graders or high school seniors – to join in stopping the casual use of the r-word, they universally agree to do so. Most want to go further: they want to understand better how they can serve as agents of acceptance and dignity. Many have visited our new website, www.r-word.org to join their names to Loretta’s and thousands of others. You would do a huge service to our cause if you too signed on. Madonna, you once said, “If you want to affect change in the world you do have to have a platform to stand on, and in order to have a platform to stand on, you have to keep doing your job.” Calling on the best in humanity to make the effort to change conversations of hate and bigotry into conversations of acceptance and inclusion by eliminating the use of the r-word is our platform. Asking you to end your own use of the r-word and asking you to join Loretta to use your great influence to help others do the same is my job. Can I count on you to do so? Best wishes, Timothy P. Shriver, Ph.D. Special Olympics Chairman 1133 19th Street, NW / Washington, DC 20036 USA / (202) 628-3630 / www.specialolympics.org

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