Athletes at Freeburg Community High School in southern Illinois have long been known as the "Freeburg Midgets," a name the Little People of America (LPA) have said "dehumanizes and objectifies people of short stature."
Despite public outcry, the school has announced that they plan to keep it that way. Here's what the controversy is all about:
Why is the word 'Midget' so offensive?
On their website, LPA explains, "The term [midget] dates back to 1865, the height of the 'freak show' era, and was generally applied only to short-statured persons who were displayed for public amusement, which is why it is considered so unacceptable today."
In a petition they delivered to Freeburg's superintendant, LPA elaborates, "The preferred terminology is 'dwarf,' 'little person,' or 'person of short stature.'"
But it isn't just the word "midget" that's offensive, -- it's not like it would be better if Freeburg changed their name to the "Freeburg Dwarfs" -- it's the spirit of the use of the word. In general, no one likes it when something that's an inherent part of their identity is reduced to caricature in the form of a mascot. There's a reason that treatment is generally reserved for animals. And just because the harm isn't being done intentionally, that doesn't mean it's not harmful.
How do little people and their families feel about the name?
Rodger Jennings Jr., the parent of a boy with dwarfism, was one of the few who attended the school board's meeting to support the name change. Jennings told the Associate Press (AP), "I hear a lot of people talk about [the cost of changing the nickname]. Schools have been made as a public organization. They're supposed to protect our children, they're not supposed to offend anybody, they're supposed to be bully-free."
The AP further reports that Megan Sabourin, a woman with dwarfism who grew up near Freeburg, also spoke out at the meeting about how hurtful the name is, saying "I'm hurt at the fact that they don't see it as something negative. I'm hurt by the fact that we were in this community and we heard derogatory, disrespectful terms at the microphone."
So why is the school refusing to change the name?
In response to the LPA's petition, around 500 people showed up at the school last night (July 16) to urge the school board to keep the name, saying it stems from tradition and community pride. A reporter is said to have given them the name nearly 100 years ago when he watched Freeburg Community High's small basketball basketball players beat a team with taller players.
One supporter told the AP, "When someone messes with something like tradition, you decide something's worth fighting for instead of letting it go."
Haven't we already done this with Native Americans?
Yes. Many high schools have had a similar experience mascots like the "Redskins," and many have made the right choice and broken with offensive traditions. After one school in upstate New York made headlines for deciding to change their name, they were widely praised for recognizing that just because something is a tradition, that doesn't make it right.
It's sad that in 2015, Freeburg High is so blatantly refusing to practice what they preach.