John Franklin Stephens

The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night’s Presidential debate.

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow.  So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow.  I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you.  In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics.  See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven’t made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger
Special Olympics Virginia

EDITOR’S NOTE: John has previously written powerful opinion pieces on the R-word. Read one here.

6,801 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

  1. I believe those with mental disabilities have much more to offer in society than those who are not disabled. My younger brother has down syndrome and is my best teacher. He is gentle, he is kind and loving and accepts everyone, regardless of their background. I think more people in the world should be more like my brother and Mr. Stephens. This world would make more sense.

  2. Pingback: Political Correctness and the "R" Word

  3. Reblogged this on Life on the Margins and commented:
    I found this through one of my friends, who has found her calling working with people with special needs. For all the deservedly-critical rants feminists have directed at Ann Coulter, none are quite so poignant as this letter from Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens. He goes straight to the heart of the matter without blinking, calling her out powerfully yet compassionately. Brave, honest, humane: an example for us all to follow.

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  7. John, Every word You put into the letter is so right. The “R” word is so degrading. I’m an athlete as well and I’m from north of the boarder. I talk to schools about the importance of inclusion and work to promote the message of it on every level of education as a self advocate, I think Society needs a good beating. I am totally amazed at Your response to the issue. What’s happened is that there is lack of awareness in many schools and in all aspects of life including the lack of involvement of the churches at the level that it ought to be involved in, All of these things are inherent in the problem that is infesting on the social system to this day. As self advocates, We must work to refocus the social paradigm. Great response, Good on Ya buddy, Keep up the good work buddy. Listen to John Stephens, This Man Knows what He’s talking about.

  8. It has been a while since I posted this.

    I… have used the R-word in the past, and I still do from time to time.

    I generally use it as an insult to tell people they are stupid.

    It has taken me a long time, as I was raised to believe any one with a mental illness must, by definition, be an idiot, to realize just how horrible of a word this truly is.

    After reading this letter by John Stephens, doing research into finding out about others with mental illnesses, and coming to terms with my own mental problems, I have been learning that just having a mental illness doesn’t make you a stupid person, just like being ‘normal’ doesn’t make you a smart person.

    Indeed, it took being far wiser and more intelligent, not to mention being a much better person than I could ever hope to be, than I will ever be to of written something like what he did, after being insulted in such a way.

    I would like to say thank you to John, for even though I have not been to the special Olympics, he has indeed helped to change my heart for the better.

    • I LOVE the place this comes from in your heart but do want to to know that an intellectual/learning disability is not the same as a mental illness.

      • Mental illness is defined as :

        Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma. Also called emotional illness, mental disease, mental disorder.

        Therefore, since intellectual and learning disabilities are impairments of an individual’s ‘normal’ cognitive abilities, they do qualify as a mental illness.

    • John, your response to Ms. Coulter is very well stated and I would certainly be in your corner on the issue. However, we do live in a country where you can say pretty much anything you like because we have that privilege granted to us by the constitution. Possibly she was so emotionally involved in her thoughts that she just failed to restrain her angst. Perhaps she deliberately chose that word to describe the man (I would hope not)! She is a well educated woman, so I am certain she could come up with a better word to describe him that the R-word. There are hundreds that are more fitting than that one. She most likely will regret having said it.

    • It’s not letting me reply to your second comment, so I’ll post this here. A mental illness is not the same as a mental disability at all. Even the defnition you yourself posted proves that. Mental ILLNESSES are things like: sociopaths, anti-personality disorder, dissociative personality disorder, sociopaths, and psychopaths. These are quite different from mental DISABILITES, such as autism, down syndrome, mental retardation, aspergers, etc. And a mental illness is not classified under a mental disability, nor vice versa.

      I can’t sit here and explain IN-DEPTH how these two terms/diagnoses differ from one another, because I’m not an expert in this feild, but I think you can see my point.

      By the way, I wasn’t yelling with the captial letters, I was using them as a form of italics.

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  10. Had to leave my comment here, even though this is an older story. My son, who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and autism were at a baseball game. He wanted to sit in the outfield, and we were in the stands with the “fans” who drank 2 beers per inning. They were throwing the “r” word around, and my son, who was 15 at the time, turned around and told them “That is not a nice word, and I don’t appreciate hearing it!” They were shocked, but apologized to him for using it. He is not normally one to speak up, and would normally text me that he was angry. I was and still am so proud of my son!

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  13. I am a mother of a nine year old special needs daughter. Ann Coulter -who’s classlessness is perhaps matched only by the excesses of her zombie-like mascara- is once again exhibiting her most prominent and unseemly skill… vomiting thoughtless, insensitive, and mean-spirited statements masked in her distorted view of the political discourse. Her shrilled commentary is testament to the belief that “any attention is better than none”. I am so proud and gratified to read the thoughtful and classy response by John Stephens. Far more than can be said of Coulter, Mr. Stephens represents what is truly good and decent in our society. Mr. Stephens deserves the attention that comes with integrity… something that Coulter and her ilk so desperately seek to feed their gluttonous egos, but will never attain.

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  17. As long as you believe the left will provide all necessary for those will medical need…Who am I to change your mind? So here is my question: Would those who reject Anne Coulter’s freedom to speak feel “all better” if she just pulled out of our country, and took her “tax dollars” with her? I see it this way: In order for all those bad success stories on American soil to “be put in their rightful place”, we really need to be willing to “boycott” their taxed worth. I, for one, love Anne Coulter’s views so much that I would much rather see her leave these states and live in luxury on an island..a really beautiful island with her own personal medical team/hospital and selected friends/family who are worthy of her…without contributing ONE RED cent to the needy or the greedy here. This way NO one can be offended by lil ole Anne. Let obama be their king.

    • Dear Bloggers:
      Yes you are right, we do have the Freedom of Speech but even that Right has a fine line to follow. No one and I mean No one has a right to use a derogatory word toward a certain group of people. We as Special Olympic athletes are just asking to stop using that word in our everyday speech.

    • I am all for Ann going to live on an island somewhere and she should take you along with her.. This has nothing to do with “red” it has to do with being sensitive and caring. I wonder if Ann had ever had a child with special needs if she would still use her freedom of speech this way. Unfortunately, I am sure she is not going anywhere since where else do people pay a lot of money to listen to fools.

    • Kim,
      Sadly, you have a poor understanding of our First Amendment right, as well as an ignorant sense of tax policy. I suggest you get a copy of the Constitution, and a copy of the writings of one of our Founders, Thomas Jefferson. If you read those documents well, you may one day be able to comprehend the difference between a right to free speech and license. The kind of anti-American, anti-Christian hate that bottom feeders like Coulter spread is protected by our Constitution. But that doesn’t make it admirable or moral. Coulter is a media whore, willing to say anything that will get her attention and feed the fears and prejudices of misinformed people like you. If she could make millions spreading more moderate viewpoints, she no doubt would. But in the sorry state of our society right now, immoral pundits make a lot more money spreading hate than they would if they engaged in productive discussion that benefitted our great Republic.
      As for taxes, you clearly believe the common myth that Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats. That is nonsense. The politicians that Coulter supports have created twice as much Federal debt as Democrats. Neither party has acted responsibly in the last fifty years. But the last Republican President to balance the budget was Eisenhower. Since them the only presidents to balance the budget have all been Democrats: Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton.
      And another fact to consider: Even as Republicans gripe about deficit spending, their states get 30 cents more federal spending per tax dollar than their Democratic neighbors. the blue states like California and New York have been paying for Republican states like Georgia and Alabama for fifty years.
      I know these are facts and that makes them a bothersome obstacle to your prejudices, but truly patriotic Americans are committed to the truth, not bigoted nonsense like the kind Coulter spews.

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  19. Where were the comments condemning Obama when he stated the same about himself in the manner that he bowled when talking on the Jay Leno Show? Get off your high horses! My son is a Special Olympian (and a gold medal winner), and matter of fact he will be playing in the unified softball state games this weekend along with my wife and I at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Coulter said something stupid but it wasn’t directed to place anyone within OUR community down – Obama says something stupid on a daily basis. So cut the crap! If you want to discuss it with me face to face, I’ll be at the games this weekend!

    • Dear Mr. Brockman:
      There was an uproar when Obama made those comments about Bowling. Also Special Olympics has a campaign that is trying to stop the use of the R-Word. I am glad that the use of the R-Word does not bother you or your son. It sounds like your son is higher functioning athlete and can understand that is not always used in a hateful manner. But there are other athletes that struggle because they have been called the R-Word or have been bullied. And to hear it on National TV, Social Media, Radio, or Movies can and will affect them to a point that they wonder why people hate them.

      So Mr. Brockman, try to be understanding in situation like this that even though it does not bother you or your son(athlete), it can and will bother other
      athletes. I’m an Special Olympic Athlete in North Carolina and I have met an athlete from the Florida Special Olympics that the use of the R-Word bothers them.

      I think that is awesome that an athlete stands up for what he believes in and if more of us could do that, think that the R-Word would no longer be used as commonly as it is used today.


    • The difference is Obama apologized. We all make mistakes. Coulter doesn’t care about who she offends and she doesn’t think she made a mistake,

  20. Ann Coulter is a phony and a fake. She cannot relate to the average person on any level and has no compassion or empathy for anyone who does not agree with her. She is a snob and a non feeling woman who only knows how to degrade and criticize. Narrow minded person on her narrow minded street. Get real, Ann.

      • STFU CRAIG. You really are a moron if you give any credence to anything Ann Coulter says. Sorry you lost the election. The prudent thing to do now is to hide behind your wealth and really just SHUT UP.

    • Ann is an entertainer. She says and does anything she can think of to get attention for herself. That is how she earns her living.
      She has no other talent than that of being outrageous. Who knows what she really thinks; she must dance to the tune her handlers play for her. Pity her.

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  23. I think the letter was very elequent and moving. I think John did what we all should be doing. He processed his thoughts and words before writing them and then addressed the fact that the “R” word should not be used as a derogatory term in conversations because the people that it has been used to describe are wonderful, delightful and beautiful people. Some of the posts on here have not taken the same time to think out there replys. If we want the “R” word removed from our language then we must also remove other hateful things we say about people.

    I try not to pay much attention to what the media has to say, because most of it is said with the intent of getting a reaction out of the public which will allow that person or agency to remain in the news. This is where they get their ratings. Whether she should appoligize or not; is not the issue here. The issue is that we too commonly in our vocablary use terms that are offensive to someone and we should all do as John did and process our thoughts before we make these types of remarks.

    I think John is a great example of how we should feel and respond to people who use these terms thoughtlessly in conversations.


  24. Pingback: John Franklin Stephens répond à Ann Coulter · La déficience intellectuelle dans le monde

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  26. I am enrolled in college currently, so I have been kind of shut out of a lot of media and the “real world”. So when I just today found out about what Ann Coulter wrote, I immediately cringed and was taken aback. I am no fan of Obama, but absolutely nothing warrants the use of that word unless it is used with a slightly different pronunciation, clearly in the context of music theory. It makes groups of people assume a label of “less than”, dehumanizing them as it stigmatizes them as worthless and nothing more than their disability. Then the fact that she defended her statement, attributing it to linguistics which were clearly questionable left me nonplussed. Your response was nothing short of eloquent and powerful, and I want to thank you for that. You wrote all the inarticulate things I felt as I tried to process what she said. I, myself, have an autism spectrum disorder called Nonverbal Learning Disability, and for that reason I empathize and relate to the joys and challenges attached to being cognitively different. Getting things done slower not because I can’t, but because it takes me longer to process, and constantly being stigmatized. I admire your courage and levelheadedness, John.

    What I am about to say is not meant to downgrade what happened or my admiration towards your response, but I must point out that the media reacted much less harshly when Pres. Obama made the offensive joke years back on a late night television show, comparing his performance at bowling to the Special Olympics. Regardless of that, however, it is the indisputable truth that the R-word needs to be eradicated from all vernaculars.

    Hannah Lingenbrink

  27. It is sad that foul-mouthed people like her have access to mainstream media. However, it is a consolation that the stuff that comes out of her mouth is the same that comes out of her other end.

      • Craig, just looking through here I see your name over and over. You’re truly the definition of a troll….
        Also of an uneducated, snarky, sorry excuse of a person.

  28. In using the “R” word, Ann Coulter, and others like her, say much more about themselves than about anyone else. If we all ignored her, maybe she would go away.

    • She is not going away anytime soon. Millions of people like the garbage she pours out. This is how she earns her livelihood. She is the female Rush Limbaugh.

    • I have been a parent of a special needs child for 18+ years. And while it annoys me to no to be labeled – I do believe as a society we need to be a bit more thick skinned. Let’s start with you and the idiot Shujaat!

      • Craig you have failed to contribute anything substantial to this discussion other than slandering insults. Even your belief that other people shouldn’t dictate what you believe or say is completely hippocritical and just undermines that whole argument. I understand that you may have been through some shit (referring to your thick skinned comment) but reciprocating hate does nothing but create more hate in society.

  29. I have a down syndrome son, its a fact of life that people will use that word. You overcome obstacles by being strong and fighting not by being sensitive over something that didnt even pretain to you in the first place. Man up and overcome without attacking perfectly good people

    • How in the world can you say that? If you truly had a child with DS you would be pretty upset by comments like Ann Coulter. What kind of parent are you????

      • T, First, let me tell you that Kyle Ross is a parent that respects the truth. That tells me a lot about the parenting of Kyle Ross. I have a relative with Downs and there is no way this discussion would be happening if not for Tim Shriver and his political agenda. The Shriver machine, hiding behind a person with an intellectual disability, has attempted to publicly crucify Ms. Coulter by redefining her INTENT when she used a derogatory term.

        Now, if I read your post correctly, you are instructing people how they should act and if we don’t act by being “pretty upset” then we are not good parents or possibly even parents at all.

        I know you can’t see it because your eyes are blind to such things. But, you are the one who is more guilty as you look for another stone to throw at Ms. Coulter. And, along the same line, Shujaat, would you call yourself a “Perfectly Good People” after saying that “the stuff that comes out of her mouth is the same that comes out of her other end”?! That seems more gross to me than one political figure calling another the equivalent of a “moron”. At least they understand their game and play in that arena.

        I will at least give you credit for realizing the remarks were directed at the President and not anyone with an intellectual disability. That is much more than I can say of most people on this site who are like blind children following the tune of Tim Shriver.

        Tim Shriver’s exploitation of the Special Olympics (and JFS) into the political arena makes him the ‘Chief among all Cowards’. He should resign his post or be ousted by the Board.

    • You are right. We should not be ofended by denigerating remarks flying around, if they are not directly targeted towards us. Why should we fight somebody else’s war.

      But Ann Coulter a “PERFECTLY GOOD PEOPLE” ? You must be living in a bubble.

      • The “Bubble” is called objectivity – who are you to judge those that don’t have the same values (as screwy as they are) as yourself? You’re just as bad as someone using a derogative label, if not worse!

      • Craig, I understand that you have strong feelings against people that support Pres Obama but you are just making yourself look bad by writing these insulting remarks on many peoples comments, it does not justify your point it just makes you a rude person.

  30. Let Ann Coulter’s “R” word hereafter reference her as a “rat”. Like a rat, and many of her
    Crowd, she feasts on any kind of stuff, no matter how inappropriate or disgusting or even untrue, and shoots from the lips Instead of the brain. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to hear her crowd discussing the issues of the day. Not that I would even want to be around them anytime.

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    • Ricky, this has been asked and answered several times. When President Obama made his comments that his bowling scores were comparable to those seen in the Special Olympics there was an immediate backlash. He apologized as soon as it was brought to his attention. On the contrary when it was brought to Ann Coulter’s attention she doubled down.

      • Ann Coulter is a freelance writer/speaker/humorist. Her wage is not paid by the taxpayers, she does not represent us, we did not elect her. Obama is PRESIDENT, works for us (supposedly), lives more than well off our tax dollars and (supposedly) represents us. Don’t you think he should be held to a higher standard??

        Why was it even necessary to bring the issue “to his attention”? Was the POTUS in need of extra education?

        I expect more from a president. I expect him to be sensitive, tactful and intelligent WITHOUT “reminders”. By contrast, I expect people like Ann Coulter to be caustic, a bit extreme and not sensitive.

        I cringe when ppl use the word “retard” and it’s regrettable that Ann Coulter hasn’t seen how wrong she was. But seriously: The president’s ridicule was far worse and there is no excuse for him!

      • Agree. If and when Ann Coulter apologizes for using the word…she’ll have responded to her mistake in the exact same way that Mr. Obama did several years ago. At this point, there isn’t a moral equivalency because Ms. Coulter has decided to stand her ground.

      • No one wants to be wrong much less admit it. Just ask my loving wife.

        Some times we need to say “I made a mistake. What I did (or said) was wrong. I’m sorry.” That goes for everyone from pauper to President. It makes us human. Since Ann Coulter can’t apologize maybe she isn’t human but the mythical evil force she appears, at times, to be.

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  33. This letter was really beautiful and it made me both smile and cry. Thank you for you powerful and insightful words John 🙂

  34. This was an amazing letter. I think it’s important that this kind of public usage of the R-word isn’t taken lightly, that people are held accountable for what they say. I think it takes real courage and compassion on the part of John to reach out to her in a diplomatic way, where he can put a face on the derogatory comment she made. Good for you John, and thank you for bringing awareness to these kind of issues. I for one am glad that Obama won the presidency again, and I think everyone should a related article about it here:

  35. John – you offer a very eloquent response. You remind the rest of us that it is possible to respond to thoughtless thinking and mean-spirited remarks (obviously launched for sensationalistic effect) with a true antidote, that of deep going kindness and wisdom. Who can say if Ann Coulter will be substantially changed by what you have written and gifted her. However, you have made a qualitative difference in my life, for which I thank you.

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  39. Thank you so much to Tim Shriver and John Franklin Stephens. This was amazing and inspirational and I’m glad you’ve posted it so that I could have an opportunity to read it. My little brother has Down Syndrome and to hear someone stand up for this whole community is so brave and awe-inspiring.

    It also inspired me to talk about this issue on my blog, which is about events and people with Special Needs in Arizona, so thanks for that inspiration as well 🙂


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