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.

6,799 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

  1. Thank you for combatting disrespect towards people with DS and other intellectual disabilities. One of my relatives has DS, and he has been cruelly treated by people who were meant to be responsible for his care. If we could foster more respect for the intellectually disabled, perhaps such things would not happen. All school children should learn about intellectual disabilities and be taught to emphathize with people with disabilities.

    On a different not, I don’t think we should suggest that all people with disabilities love life (I don’t think the author was actually suggesting this, but others have). No stereotype, positive or negative, applies to everyone. The experiences of those whose intellectual disabilities cause them immense suffering or debilitation, to the extent that opportunities like the special olympics are not available to them, should not be forgotten.

  2. I just Googled Ann Coulters name to discover more about the story, and one of the top three suggested results is “Ann Coulter Retard”. Well done for helping to expose her… This must be terribly damaging for her, and I hope it is. Great blog too. I’m in the uk and the word is used just as readily but unfortunately we don’t have such a campaign as yours that I’m aware of.

  3. Love you man…folks like Anne have this judgement problem,and they try to make people places and things responsible for there inadequacies.Please don’t hate her,she just does not know any better.

    • I must disagree with you, monkeyofstick. She knows better. She is a grown, intelligent woman. She is simply filled with hate and disrespect and chooses to spread it any chance she gets, like so many others. Perhaps something in her childhood made her this way. But she does know better.

  4. Mr. Stephens,

    Your response to Ann’s disrespectful and classless Tweet is wonderful. It’s not only classy, but very well-worded and backed up with many good points; neither of which were found in her posting. As the sister of a young man with autism and epilepsy, I face ignorance almost every day, when it comes to my brother’s diagnoses. The general population often equates the r-word with “stupid”, just like some use “that’s gay” to voice their dislike for a situation they don’t agree with. I wish that more people would associate positive things with people who have disabilities, but there’s only so much you can do. You can’t fix ignorance or stupidity. With that in mind, just know that lots of people are on your side in this, and feel just as much disgust from someone who should know better, but obviously doesn’t care to behave that way.

  5. Well said John! Culture has a sad way of completely misappropriating words like ‘Retard’ and using them without ever truly understanding the way in which they impact those struggling to overcome the associated, and completely untrue, stigmas.

    Keep fighting the good fight, and know that there are many here that support you.

  6. I have a sister who has Downs Syndrome. She is a joy to be around. She is generous, thoughtful, loving, and kind. I do not consider her to be “retarded.” I also do not take offense when someone uses that word to describe, in a satirical way, the political shortcomings of a failed president. Why take offense when none is intended?

  7. How is that tweet with the word “retard” anything to do with anyone with downs syndrome?
    Since when have people with downs syndrome been retards?
    I have never thought of them as such.

  8. John Franklin Stephens, you really rock that extra chromosome! I would never consider YOU a “retard;” you are smarter than Ms. Coulter could ever be, and I hope you are very proud of yourself, because I don’t even know you and *I’M* proud of you! Excellent comeback–and congratulations to you for out-thinking a bigoted, ignorant idiot! Wish I’d said that!

    • “I would never consider YOU a ‘retard'”
      Wow. You totally missed the point he was making. You are just as insulting as Coulter.

  9. If there is a God, then you have scored one for the team against a truly hate-filled person. All of us must reject her way of thinking. She may be free to think and say what she wishes, but we must also be free to loudly condemn her for saying things that are repulsive to the rest of us.

    After all, how can we talk about standing up to bullies, protecting our children and caring more about the less fortunate when networks like Fox News produce and encourage people like Coulter every day.

  10. Love reading your letter John 🙂 but the problem is that Ann Coulter just doesn’t care about others. So you’d be lucky if she even read this Let alone apologizes for it.

  11. John, your response was heartfelt and brought new inspiration to me to eliminate the use of the R-Word and defeat the acceptance of its use. You are strong, courageous, and incredibly well spoken. Please keep inspiring others.


  12. Reblogged this on Mr Northice says… and commented:
    It always grated on me, when I was in the States, how widespread use of the R-word was; I even had a parent refer to their non-learning disabled son as ‘retarded’ during a parents’ evening. Sometimes I hear other educational professionals use (often those I’d even risked calling friends) and it’s always incredibly awkward when you call them out on it. It’s not okay, and Ann Coulter should be ashamed of, well, many things, frankly, but this is one of her lowest moments. John Franklin Stephens’s stuff is always enjoyable reading. This is no exception.

  13. Well said, John. Other people should be so fortunate to have a world view, a perseverance, and an optimism such as yours, which is shared by so many Special Olympians and their families.

    I hope Ann Coulter takes your suggestion and goes to a Special Olympics event. She will find an incredible community that represents humanity at its best.

  14. John, I have posted your letter on my Facebook page because I think everyone should read your response to Ann Coulter. I have seen her on talk shows and she is extremely rude and arrogant. She apparently thinks she is very funny, but I just find her attempts at humor disgusting. People like her don’t care about regular people like us, because we aren’t rich or famous. You have proven that you are the more intelligent and thoughtful person, and I congratulate you for all of your accomplishments. Those of us who have had to struggle, for one reason or another, appreciate what we have so much more than someone who takes what she has for granted. You are a more worthwhile person than 50 Ann Coulters and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. You are a shining example of what a person can accomplish with some hard work and heart.

  15. You are awesome! This response to her is perfect in every way… we stand by you! Thank you for posting this and remember there’s a lot more folks on your side than hers… I think she’s feeling the heat now! ❤ Kyla

  16. It fascinates me how some people can take such a beautifully written letter and purposefully misinterpret it or construe the point. Thank you for rising above comments/critiques that continually try to bring you down, and for being the bigger person. We could learn a lot from you and your community.

  17. John, thank you for writing to Ann Coulter, your letter was one I wish I had written. Ms. Coulter seems to be a very unpleasant person and does not stand for anything I think is important in life. I doubt she will be affected by your respectful and truthful letter as she seems to be an insensitive person but you have helped yourself and all of us with your courage. Sincere Regards, Katherine

  18. Reblogged this on Reynolds Performance and commented:
    This is a powerful article on the “R” word. I didn’t understand the meaning or the effect of saying the word because I really never was and still am not very good at dealing with other people’s emotions in social context. I am look at definitions of words and often I used them just as they are defined and well being the little book smart nerdy kid that I was I had a friend who had a learning disability when I was in Junior High school, he was actually a Junior in high school at the time. I called him the “R” word and he looked at me and in what had to be the most eloquent way possible he explained the significance of the word. I never forgot that, and I find the words here to be just as eloquent and beautiful. Bravo!

  19. I saw her response to the backlash about her using the R word – she said words are just words and she is tired of the political correctness these days.
    In that case, she shouldn’t mind if people start calling her a “crack hore” – cuz I gotta tell ya – she could pass for one very easily

    • Well, at least we can be be assured she was notified of a “dip in her numbers”.

      As for your equatable proposition concerning words, there is likely no limit to what she could be deservedly named by those wishing to descend to her fathomless depths.

      If any significance can be given to emotions in Ms. Coulter’s case, one could assert John’s letter had a pronounced stimulating effect. But pique’ is of questionable worth when applied to matters of absolute self-interest.

  20. Thank you, Mr. Stephens for this great post. You show real kindness and patience as well as remaining firm. God bless you in work. You are making this world better.

  21. I commend you John on a beautiful letter. I have a daughter with Downs and she is one of the kindest human beings. I feel God blessed me when he gave her to me to care for and protect against those such as Ann. I wish you well in all you do and there are a lot of us that have your back. Carry on and bless you!

  22. YOU make me PROUD to be an AMERICAN! She is ONE hatred filled woman and arrogant hiding behind HER FIRST AMENDMENT. SHE has disrespected OUR COMMANDER IN CHIEF every chance she gets but I AM ELATED THAT YOU HAVE A PEOPLE STANDING BEHIND YOU TO hopefully dethrone her!!!!! YOU MAKE ME PROUD!

  23. Wonderfully put, and more than Ann Coulter actually deserves. But really, nothing will faze her since she is like a small child who breaks her toys to get attention. The people who need to read and process this message are the ones who have a capacity for growth and compassion.

  24. Mr. Stephens, thank you for your well written and very well thougth out letter. Based on the comments above you have done something that may be far more important than putting Ms. Coulter in her place. You have started a conversation regarding DS. Well done good sir, very well done.

  25. I am by no means perfect, but I try to do good. Then there are men like this. How much better the world would be if we were all a little more like him.

  26. The US networks didn’t show the Paralympics. They’ve never shown the Paralympics as far as I can remember. I was actually shocked to find out that they were a thing because they never showed them.

  27. The woman and her employers who used the r word is doing it to make money, they sell advertising and to make people want to watch they sensationalize, demean and irritate. The sort of people who are attracted to this are simple and crude. They are to lazy to think about what is really happening to them. It may be a good thing for MR.Romney to win, because the rich are stealing from the public using politicians and those who are supposed to be responsible for the organs of state. Once people are destitute,starving and begging perhaps they will not stupid and that they will see just where the wealth is going.Then with a bit of backbone growth along with this new found insight, they may take what is theirs back , like the French, set up the machines of de-capitation in the public squares and get the heads on spikes

  28. Congratulations Mr Stephens on an eloquent response to a very ignorant and insensitive person. It continues to amaze me why that woman gets any air time from anyone. She is very offensive. You are an inspiration! Awesome job! Have a great day!

  29. i agree with everything said, except for the opening sentence. she IS dumb and shallow. she’s built a career on it.

  30. Do you really think she intended to elevate Obama to the level of a Special Olympian? I think you’ve misunderstood the use of the word ‘retard’. It carries no connotations of Down’s Syndrome.

    • You are intentionally missing the point. (at least I hope it’s intentional, otherwise you’re thicker than Coulter is) Please enlighten all of us as to what she meant, since you have some esoteric knowledge of the term that we don’t seem to understand.

  31. ” In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.”

    Slow is fast, brother. If everyone took the time to gather his thoughts, like you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  32. John, Great job! You show great depth of character that Ann Coulter will never achieve! She is a media whore, and will be an afterthought in a few short years! You have the insight to promote great change within our society! Keep your chin up, and march forward! Excellent! I’m sure all who know you are beaming with pride! ~Jim Langstaff

  33. So, Jeff, people with Down’s Syndrome are “Without Guile”? Is that kind of like Black People having a good sense of Rhythm, Asians being good students and southerners marrying their cousins?
    I’ll take my answer off the air.
    What makes me sad about Ann Coulter is that she has an audience.

  34. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the London Paralympic events and the 2010 events before. I cheered on our athletes and felt the joy of the competition. Not living in the USA which seems to be the country harbouring this person, I have no idea who Ann Coulter is. Just a note to demonstrate who clearly holds the world stage.

    • Just FYI, the Paralympics are different from the Special Olympics. I believe that athletes with intellectual disabilities compete in the Special Olympics, and those with physical disabilities compete in the Paralympics.

      • Athletes with intellectual disabilities also compete in the Paralympics in athletics, swimming and table tennis. These classes are not run in every Paralympic Games, prior to London the previous Games with these events was Sydney in 2000.

        British and Australian swimmers in these classes tore up the pool: it was a bit on the awesome side. Unlike Anne Coulter.

  35. John I admire you very much. Keep your chin up and dont let people like Ann get to you. She is just showing her ignorance. I hate the R word. There is no need for it. I had a daugther who was a special needs child. I lost her when she was 38
    years old.Kids use to make fun of her and call her the R word. I would run them off but it hurt. I have a grandson who has celeral Palsy.When kids at school laughed at him and made fun of how he walked his big brother stepped in and settled that real quick. Hang in there Iohn. I

  36. Not to be disrespectful to Mr. Stephens, but this “Open Letter to Ann Coulter” was obviously not written by a person with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome are without guile. That is, they are free of deceit, cunning, hypocrisy, and dishonesty. It’s sad that this fine young man is being used this way. The person who wrote this letter had a political agenda, which people with Down syndrome do not. The letter was obviously pre-written, by someone, ready to post at the right occasion for political purposes.

      • Sorry, but you are easily fooled. You may remember Chris Burke from the TV show “Life Goes On”. He was on the very high end of verbal functioning. Here is an example of his writing.

      • You do not think that someone could have helped him write and edit this? Perhaps this are his true thoughts that a friend or family member helped him articulate.

    • He isn’t calling her out for being deceitful, cunning, hypocritical, or dishonest. He is calling her out for being an udder douchebag and using an offensive term. Huge difference.

      • RCCA, it is not offensive when what they are being, is, in fact, and utter douchebag. Tolerance of intolerance is not something to encouraged, and if someone chooses to act in a hateful, spiteful manner, I will do the same to them.

    • The letter Flesch-Kincaid’s at 7.4, which doesn’t preclude it being written by him. I will give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it was. That being said, Obama would have backed aborting him as a “burden” to his parents, so I’m puzzled by his defense of Obama.

      • A skilled spin-doctor would of course be aware of the Flesh-Kincaid grade level formula and its implications. It is fairly simple to check one’s copy in any number of widely-available word processing programs.

      • Yeah, thats probably why he signed an executive order extending the hyde amendment (which bans federals money to abortions… because he loves abortions so much. Itd be nice if people would atleast research the subject they want to be outraged about.

      • Jeff, you are clearly not speaking from personal experience. People with Down Syndrome can be just as manipulative, cunning, deceitful as any other member of the community.

        They can also be keenly obvservant of other people, sweet to the ones they like and nasty to the ones they don’t like, or even choose to be nice to the people they don’t like, or who treat them like second class citizens, which is what you have done in your comments.

        You have obviously never had a political discussion with an adult with Down Syndrome. I have, and I can tell you that they vote and yes, they have their own ideas about politics and politicians.

        People with Down Syndrome are as varied as the population who don’t have Down Syndrome, and cannot be generalized in the way you have. Not at all.

        Oh, did you know that all people named Jeff have simplistic views of people with Down Syndrome? 😉

      • You are wrong. Partof the euthanasia myth peddled by extremists. Obama would likely have accepted the mothers decision to keep or abort the child. Unlike some republican congressman who advise their out of wedlock mistress to have an abortion so it doesn’t affect his political career or to be more charitable, maybe he just didn’t want to upset his wife.

      • This is a serious misrepresentation of what it means to be pro-choice. Pro-choice simply means that the government or anyone else has no right to make that decision on behalf of a woman, it is her individual right and choice. Although the following is not directed at you as you did not say this specifically, I’m led to the broader questions – Why is it that personal autonomy and individual choice free of government intervention is a central conservative tenet for every issue except this one? When did the inability to impose the will of one’s own religion on everyone regardless of their faith or lack thereof suddenly become “religious persecution”?

      • What is “pro-choice” about siccing 30,000 IRS agents to force Joe Taxpayer to pay for aborting Down’s babies?

        That’s as “pro-choice” as the mugger offering you the “choice” of your money or your life.

    • By saying “not to be disrespectful” you are being inadvertently being disrespectful. If those with Down Syndrome are “free of deceit, cunning, hypocrisy, and dishonesty” then this letter may have not been written at all. To me, your are saying that those with Down Syndrome don’t feel a compassion against hateful and disgusting bullying tactics.

    • Jeff,
      With all possible due respect, you don’t know as much about Down Syndrome as you think you do. Down Syndrome varies in levels of severity across an extremely broad spectrum – and not every person with Down Syndrome exhibits the same personality traits, or characteristics of the syndrome as everyone else.
      You led out in your comment that you didn’t wish to be disrespectful to Mr Stephens, and then you were *precisely* that – horribly, and undeniably disrespectful.
      I suggest you spend some time researching Mr Stephens. Read some of the other opinion pieces he’s written – or look him up on Youtube. What you will find is an extremely articulate young man – a man who can clearly grasp the concepts that you so disrespectfully claim that he can’t.
      Instead, you paint him as some kind of puppet, with no basis in evidence except your own limited ‘understanding’ of Down Syndrome.
      Please, go and look John Stephens up, and realise that he’s no puppet. He’s an intelligent young man, who has a developmental disability – and that disability does not, will not and should never, ever preclude him from holding an opinion, or offering it to the world.

    • Not to be disrespectful, but you were. Your shallow assumptions are reprehensible, and without basis. I would say, “SHAME ON YOU;” that is, if you were capable of feeling shame.

    • Wow, he was right. People do just assume hes dumb. Youre one of them. Yeah, you never got help from a parent or friend growing up when doing homework or writing something. What a big man you are. No disrespect.

    • Jeff, you cant be serious…. I don’t believe that this statement was written by you but rather a less intelligent individual who hacked into your account and posted something so stupid to portray you as being dumb.

    • Your reply here shows your ignorance. You assume that all people with Down syndrome are a certain way. Please do some research. ( I do not consider your reference to one video of another person with Down Syndrome research). All people are different, they have different skill levels, different talents etc. Down syndrome doesn’t define a person as being a *certain level*. Please take the time to research something before you make a general comment that stereotypes people.
      With respect, Amy

    • Jeff, I have had a first cousin for as long as I can remember that has Downs. He has a hard time being understood when he speaks, he has a rough time hearing, and he has poor eye sight. However, he is a sneaky guy who loves to play practical jokes and does in fact know how to be cunning and he can certainly be dishonest. Saying things like this without a doctorate and a significant amount of research to back it is like saying the sky is purple. You have no basis for it and it’s offensive to claim to know so much. I was fortunate enough to encounter a young girl, five years old, that was the opposite end of my cousin. Extremely communicative, able to read. YES, READ, at age five. Many “normal” kids can’t do that, but she could. She was driven, loving, and a joy to be around. She was also sneaky and liked to play tricks. I was only around her for 6 hours and I saw her use cunning more than once.

      To John, great job man. Keep up the fight, maybe one day we can rid the English language of all sorts of words that are completely offensive when used the wrong way.

    • First of all, assuming that being “free of deceit, cunning, hypocrisy and dishonesty” means that one cannot hold political views is insulting. That said, I didn’t see any political views espoused. You do, because of the subject matter I suppose. The only view expressed in this is “Hey, could you please not use that word as an insult to those that you disagree with politically?” However, let’s assume that there is a political viewpoint here, because I could be wrong: Is a political viewpoint necessarily hypocritical, dishonest, cunning or deceitful? I don’t think so. I certainly think that there are certain political beliefs that we can all get behind, like, for example, that no person should be able to own another. Nothing hypocritical there. However, asking people to use offensive language isn’t even a political issue. People from all areas of the political spectrum can certainly agree that using an offensive word that is used to insult a group of people for factors outside of their control is bad thing.

      Moving past that to the video you linked to: That young man actually seemed very well spoken to me. Sure, he spoke slowly, and not ever word was crystal clear, but he spoke better than many of the people I know, and cards on the table, I don’t know many people with Downs Syndrome. Furthermore, writing is certainly a different medium than speaking is. To assume that Mr. Burke wouldn’t have been able to write something like this is insulting. Do you know that he couldn’t? Have you personally asked him to write something like this without the help of a friend or family member? Have you tested him? No? Then what the hell are you talking about? Speaking prowess and writing prowess are not the same thing, and even if they were, it’s not impossible that the ideas were John’s, and a friend or family member helped him to put those ideas into words without adding any of their own biases.

      Your lack of belief is not evidence. And frankly, you’re paranoia that asking someone to display basic human empathy betrays *your* political position.

    • if there was a political purpose, what was it?
      1. It’s not anti-Conservative. The Ann Coulter tweet was anti-conservative. She sacrificed herself on the altar of her own tactlessness, inconsideration, and ignorance, and detracted from her own cause. Ignorance tends to do this.
      2. The letter, regardless of the author (although, I’m in agreement with the rest, that John wrote it), was primarily an enlightenment piece for all of us who suffer from our own varying degrees of ignorance regarding developmental disorders and the like, so that we realize the error of our ways when using the words “retard” and “retarded” as a slight to someone, or a put-down. Can’t claim I haven’t misused it in the past when I was much younger and less thoughtful ( #does Coulter really have all that education that she lists?). Pieces like this help the public get their minds correct, and cut down on the misappropriation and misuse of words and labels.
      3. Ann Coulter’s public idiocy provides a great opportunity to get the previously mentioned point across. If the political goal you were referring to was this: enlightenment about and support for a vastly misunderstood and misrepresented group, AND if we’re to read between your words to get that you feel this is a bad thing…
      well, there’s a good chance you’re a terrible person.

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