Here we go again. Yet another prominent figure on the world stage makes the tragic mistake of trying to ridicule someone else (or himself) by name calling. And in this case, Swiss football player, Michel Morganella not only called his South Korean opponents a name, but the slang he used is equated to calling someone “mentally retarded.”
Just typing those words make my stomach knot. But there it is again. Who can we ridicule with impunity? Those who with intellectual disabilities are often too kind and too quiet to counter. Who do we call out to humiliate our adversaries? Those who are tragically accustomed to humiliation. Who do we need to degrade in order to assert ourselves? Those who keep trying to claim their voice against all odds only to be scoffed at as they are trying to be heard.
Enough. Morganella has been sent home, cast out of the Olympic games. Rightly so. Perhaps he will have a moment to reflect and collect himself. I hope so. Deliberate malice exists but it rarely comes from the core. At our best, we all aspire to goodness. I hope Morganella will find it at home.
The rest of us are left to reflect and refresh. Why does this odious stereotype rear its head so often? How can we heal it and create communities that are safe from this type of bullying and ridicule? How can we embrace more fully the grit and fearlessness and reckless openness that so many people with intellectual disabilities–those who look small in the world– bring in the biggest way to our lives?
The Olympic games are about winners. But the Olympic spirit recognizes that there are many ways to win. Bravery, courage, joy, and grit are their own rewards. Morganella didn’t show them this time so he will not be counted as a winner. But many people all over the world–athletes of Olympic greatness who also happen to have intellectual disabilities–show it everyday. Although they’re not competing in London, they’re winners in more ways than Morgella can imagine.
Let’s join them in sport and in life. Once and for all: end the names. And in their place? Play the games! And perhaps Morganella will join Special Olympics in South Korea in 2013 where they will be showcasing to the world the meaning of the true Olympic spirit at the Special Olympics World Winter Games PyeongChang.