Last week, New York Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett used the R-word in reference to a question about his effectiveness against the Boston Red Sox.  We activated our “Spread the Word to End the Word” social media channels in an effort to engage and activate our community as we often do when we see people of note using the word publicly.

Our goal is to use these opportunities as teaching moments and to continue the conversations of respect, dignity and inclusion with the R-word serving as the catalyst to the larger conversation of acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.  We always seek out the social media channels of the person who says the R-word so we can provide an action item for our constituents to leave Facebook posts or send tweets in the hope that a show of strong support will influence the person who uses the R-word to recognize that their choice of language can be hurtful to our population and that they will choose to engage with our campaign, and in a perfect world participate in Special Olympics or Best Buddies activities over the longer term.

Today, I’d like to share two things.  The first is an apology.  On Friday we posted on Facebook and tweeted that A.J. Burnett had apologized for using the R-word based on a Facebook post on what we thought was his page.  This is not his page.  We pointed to this page twice as a way for our fans to activate and we apologize for doing so in error.  We do greatly appreciate the continued support of our passionate fans who regularly take the time to speak out on Facebook walls and on Twitter and we will be extra diligent in the future so as not to make this mistake again.

It wasn’t long after we pointed to the fake A.J. Burnett page that we became suspicious as to whether it was in fact his page.  So in an effort to confirm, we reached out to Jason Zillo, Director of Media Relations for the New York Yankees.  The second thing I’d like to share is the email we received in response.


Thanks for the note.  I actually saw the PSA you are referring to this week.  Nicely done.

I have attached and enclosed a variety of photos, videos and newspaper clips that touch on the work A.J. has done and continues to do with disabled and/or disadvantaged youth.   I’d encourage you to take a few moments to view for yourself and share with others.  Among his work, he hosts a baseball camp and game with the Miracle League each year in his hometown in Arkansas and was a leader in initiating a baseball game played last season at Yankee Stadium with members of Beautiful People, a youth group from upstate New York with various disabilities.  Two years ago, he stayed at Yankee Stadium until 3 am to play with children from Camp Sundown, who are afflicted with an extremely rare skin disease that prevents them from ever being exposed to sunlight.

Probably most importantly, he does these things not because he is required to but because he wants to.  From personal experience I can tell you that is not always the case.  It’s both refreshing and needed.

I’m a big believer that actions speak louder than words, and although A.J.’s use of the word may have rightfully upset others, his body of work over the years is a much more powerful and lasting statement into his commitment to programs very similar to yours.

Additional clips:



FYI – that is not AJ’s Facebook page.  He does not have one.  None of our players do, but all of our players do have imposter Facebook and twitter accounts.  Not much they can do about it either.


At the bottom of this post are the photos Jason shared, and this link will open a PDF with some additional clips.

We’re following up with Jason to thank him for sharing this information and on an engagement opportunity he mentioned in his email that was omitted as details are not finalized.

Sadly, this actually puts us back at square one with A.J. from the standpoint that what we mistakenly thought was an apology, was in fact just an imposter.  Again, that was our fault.  Clearly, we’d love to still see A.J. make a sincere apology. But we thought it important to share this information about his ongoing work because at the end of the day we feel like the most impactful way to make a difference is by being involved in activities that promote the inclusion and respect of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  This shows that A.J. does make the time for that sort of deeper engagement and we applaud him for that, though we do hope in the future his choice of words better align with his good deeds.

That would be a win for everyone.

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12 thoughts on “A.J. Burnett and the R-word

  1. How does aj think these children that he does stuff for with disabilitys would feel if they heard him using the R-WORD!!!!!!!! they would be hurt that they have so much fun with him but yet they might feel he is making fun of them for his action of using the R-WORD. How dare you AJ

  2. I have considered myself an advocate for people with disabilities since my son was a few days old, and I was first learning about Down syndrome. I deeply believe that we should not hold others to a higher standard than we are able to achieve ourselves. Because I have made mistakes and suspect that I will make other mistakes in the future, especially in the heat of emotional moments, it makes more sense to me to reserve judgement of people who have a slip of the tongue when they have demonstrated great support and encouragement of children and adults with developmental disabilities or other conditions. I think many of us are fortunate that there is not a microphone or camera recording our every word and action in public.
    When an incident like this happens, we have the opportunity to object, explain what seems so simple for us to understand, and to expect a response from a public figure or others in our community. Not many people grew up being taught that taunts or even hate language should be avoided; most learned to use the language that they heard from infancy. I have heard too many vulnerable new moms confess they used the R-word without thinking when they were teenagers, heartbroken that they did so while thinking of how their babies with Down syndrome should never have to hear a taunt or be burdened with the term by professionals or their mainstream peers.
    I am also willing to educate and encourage those who have had no positive interactions with people who have intellectual disabilities in the past so they stop using the R-word and help us build a more inclusive and welcoming community for all. Advocacy would be easy if all we did was ‘preach to the choir.’
    Isn’t our main objective to educate people so they can help us eradicate the R-word? I don’t think we should turn our backs on family or friends who use the word, or strangers either. We are no better than they are, just because we have a sensitivity to language. It takes effort and inspiration for us everyday to be better people, like others who fall short of perfect.

  3. I agree with Kristin, AJ should understand more than anyone the harm in the R-word. If he wants everyone to see his “actions” & not his words than an apology is still needed!!! My nephew, who has special needs, & I are die hard Yankee fans BUT we are NO longer AJ fans!!!!!!!

    • sam here chris he needs to apolgize that hurt my feelings as I am a special olympics athlete and to see he works with children with special needs how dare him say the r-word

  4. I am ashamed to admit that before I had my son, I too was one of those people who used the R-word in such a careless manner. My little boy is now 2 years old, and I still slip and say it sometimes, Old habits are hard to break, I guess. So I am willing to give AJ Burnett the benefit of the doubt. It was an emotional situation for him, and that is when we tend to forget ourselves. That said, I do think he should make a public apology. As Krista said, I would hate to see all of his positive actions negated over one unfortunate slip of the tongue. A public apology would go a long way towards healing the pain caused by his forgetfulness.

  5. I’ve worked with persons with disabilities my entire adult life and am a huge proponent of ending the R-word. That being said, I don’t think it helps our cause when we discount a person’s actions completely and bombard him with attacks based on one comment that could very easily have been made in ignorance. I hate that AJ used that word, and in such a public manner. But I LOVE that he’s given kids with disabilities some incredibly memorable experiences. I would love to see him apologize. I would hate to see him feel completely alienated from the disability community following his one comment. The kids he’s been helping don’t need to hear him saying hurtful words, but they also don’t need to see an entire community lashing out at a man who could very well be a hero to them.

  6. I totally agree with Kristin…..if he is so involved then he, of all people, should KNOW BETTER…I think its more insulting that a person with knowledge of people with disabilities would say that word versus someone that just said it because they are ignorant.

  7. Thanks for the info. Still would like him to address his word choice, but nice to see an athlete with a higher sense of community. Wish more people would step up to the plate!

  8. in this instance I think that AJ’s WORDS did speak louder than his actions…..

    If AJ did these things because he WANTED to and not because he felt pressured or contracted to do so, he would have know that his use of the “R” word was wrong…. if he was as involved as he claims to be and because he WANTS to be he would have KNOWN better than to use that word.

    Shame on you AJ!!!! But ‘pretty’ letter from the Media relations… I wonder if this is a form letter that media relations folks have on their computers to tweek as needed.

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