Why 4,500 people are calling for a high school mascot to be retired
According to its website, Freeburg Community High School has had the same mascot since 1934. As the story goes, the school’s tallest basketball player that year was 5’10”, and a local sportswriter dubbed the team the “Midgets.” After they won a particularly tough match against an undefeated team, the name stuck, despite being called tasteless and offensive in the press.
Now, Little People of America (LPA) — a nonprofit organization that offers support and information for people with dwarfism and their families — has started a petition asking Freeburg to change it, and to cease all sales of “midgetwear merchandise.”
“The term ‘midget’ dehumanizes and objectifies people of short stature,” the petition reads. “The word was first coined in reference to people of short stature who were on public display for curiosity and sport, and the word evolved into a negative connotation.”
LPA’s website goes on to state that “dwarf,” “little person,” or “person of short stature” are all preferred terms — but ultimately, “most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label” and none of them should be mascots. LPA hosted its national conference near St. Louis, Missouri this month — a mere half hour drive to Freeburg. While multiple high schools have claimed “Midgets” as their mascot in the past, the petition asks FCHS to take a stand and make the school a more welcoming and safe environment for all.
“When the term word ‘midget’ is used, we feel we are being devalued,” Gary Arnold, president of LPA, told the Norwalk Reporter. “We understand the word is part of history and some people don’t mean it to be degrading. Nevertheless, whenever it is used, it has a negative effect on the dwarfism community.”
The superintendent of the school, Andrew Lehman, told the Norwalk Reporter that he personally doesn’t find the mascot offensive — but that he will share the petition with the school board at its next meeting.
“[The] district has never used it in an offensive way,” he continued. “But I do understand the perspectives of those who feel differently than I do.”
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, dwarfism can be caused by more than 200 different conditions. The most common, achondroplasia, “is a genetic condition that affects about 1 in 15,000 to 1 in 40,000 people” — about 70% of people with dwarfism. Given just how common it is, it’s shocking that such a derogatory term to refer to those of short stature would still be any school’s mascot — and LPA hopes to change that.
So far, over 4,500 people have signed the petition, nearing the goal of 5,000 signatures.
“I’m signing because our use of terminology affects the way people think,” writes one supporter. “My family members who are short of stature should be free referred to in a respectful manner. This will teach all students a lesson in respect and accepting change.”
Another writes: “I’m signing because I have children both average and dwarfs and I want them to grow up in a world where others don’t make fun of those who are different.”
Despite concerns, the petition doesn’t outright attack the school, but rather urges change.
“In the case of Freeburg, Illinois, while the term is not intended to do harm, any word that creates a hostile and unwelcoming environment with any potential student has no place as a school mascot,” it reads. “We want to ensure that Freeburg is creating a safe environment for all people, including those of short stature, that are in the area.”
As the petition rightly points out, intent isn’t always directly correlated with damage — and regardless if FCHS meant to be offensive with its choice in mascot doesn’t negate the fact that its mascot is offensive.
“The word has evolved,” Arnold told the New York Post. “And we feel that it’s time for a change.”
To find out more, you can check out the petition here.
(Image via FCHS.)