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Marvin Lewis’s apology is lacking

Bengals Wrapup Football

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis answers questions at a news conference at the NFL football team’s facility, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati lost in the wild-card game for the third straight season Sunday. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)


Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has apologized for referring to Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel as a “midget.” But Lewis apologized to the wrong people.

In his apology, Lewis mentioned Manziel, the Browns and Browns fans. Lewis failed to mention people of short stature, the people who, by extension, Lewis was really insulting.

I do not believe Lewis meant any offense with his choice of words. I do not believe the majority of people who use the word “midget” mean any offense. But the word is, indeed, offensive. Little People of America, a nonprofit organization that provides support for people of short stature, notes that the word has negative connotations and is often used as an insult toward the people with the more than 200 different medical conditions that are commonly referred to as types of dwarfism.

“While we understand that no group can dictate what words are spoken or images are projected, we hope to continue to raise awareness around the dwarfism community and use of the word ‘midget’ – a word that many people of short stature consider a slur and a word closely associated with the public objectification of people of short stature,” Little People of America says.

When I pointed out on Twitter that many short-statured people consider the word offensive, I was besieged by people telling me that I need to lighten up and that the world is too politically correct. Many of those people called me a “midget” and used other slurs as well, to emphasize that they won’t allow anyone to take away their right to slur anyone they please.

But I was also contacted by a few little people, some of whom identified themselves as Bengals fans, who told me that Lewis’s word hurt. One Bengals fan, Christopher Horndt, told me that he was disappointed in Lewis’s word choice but hopes the incident will become an opportunity for people to consider that their words can hurt.

“I am 3'5" and have a type of dwarfism known as spondylopiphyseal dysplasia congenita,” Horndt told me via email. “In public, I get various reactions, ranging from children staring and shouting excitedly to his or her parents, ‘Look at the midget!’ or the children telling me to my face that I ‘don’t look like a real person.’”

Dave Spradlin was another Bengals fan who contacted me shortly after Lewis made his comment.

“I understand the stares and whatnot I receive on a daily basis (from both adults and children). It happens, I’m different,” Spradlin said. “But when someone, like Marvin did today, takes a word so offensive to a group of people who just want to live a normal life as much as they can, and uses it to try to hurt someone’s feelings or deface them or whatever he wants to call it. It’s straight wrong, unmoral, and ignorant. ‘Midget’ comes from freak shows and carnivals from years ago. It’s time he understood that. I’m a fan of the Bengals, but Marvin just left the most disgusting taste in my mouth.”

This isn’t about taking away anyone’s right to speak. This is about simple human decency, and not using words that offend others. I bet Marvin Lewis has heard slurs that anger him. I bet Lewis would be saddened if he heard his children called a slur. I bet if Lewis had a child with dwarfism, Lewis wouldn’t use the word “midget,” and he’d be infuriated if he heard others use it.

So if you wouldn’t want your own child to be slurred, why would you use a slur toward anyone else? The m-word is a word that all of us should take out of our vocabularies.