Super Bowl Quarterback Fumbles On the R-Word

With one comment, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has made quite a fumble, well before the first play of this Sunday’s Super Bowl this Sunday. In response to a recent question from a Denver Post columnist about whether cold-weather cities should host the Super Bowl, Flacco used the r-word:

“Yeah, I think it’s retarded. I guess I shouldn’t say that [word]. I think it’s stupid. If you want to have a Super Bowl, put a retractable dome on your stadium, then you can get one. Other than that, I don’t really like the idea. I don’t think it would suit us badly. I think we would react very well to it and would be glad to play anybody in that kind of weather. I can’t see that really being a good idea.”

As swiftly as he had made his remark, Flacco said he regretted it:

“It was a bad choice of words. I have a great relationship with Special Olympics back in Baltimore and have had one for many years. I didn’t mean to offend anybody but I definitely apologize for that.”

The Special Olympics has been conducting a widely publicized national campaign against the use of the r-word and, as the Baltimore Sun notes, Flacco himself has co-chaired Special Olympics Maryland‘s annual Polar Bear Plunge.

Flacco’s saying the “r-word” may have been unintentional, but shows how it has become entwined in people’s vocabulary even when they think they’re “in the know” about individuals with disabilities. His use of the word is a reminder about how entrenched the use of the r-word has become in our culture — and it’s a great impetus to start a serious discussion.

Maryland resident John Boit, whose sister has Down Syndrome and who had worn a Flacco jersey till now, says the use of the “r-word” “amounts to hate speech.” That may sound like an over-reaction, but it is not when you consider the history of the word and other terms that have been used to describe those with intellectual disabilities.

Back in the 1950s, using the term “mentally retarded” was considered progress. Before then, those with intellectual disabilities were said to be “morons,” “imbeciles,” “cretins,” “idiots” and “feeble-minded.” Our understanding of all that individuals with intellectual and other disabilities can do has since grown and evolved. The Special Olympics’ “end the use of the r-word” campaign is one result of this.

While Special Olympics Maryland has been critical of Flacco’s comment  – a spokeswoman, Linda Ellingsworth, says that Flacco “kind of made a slip” — the organization says it still supports him. Indeed, Ellingsworth says they plan to use the incident as an “opportunity to further educate people on the usage of the word.”

It was only two years ago that the state of Arizona officially removed the words “retardation” and “crippled” from its statutes. Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, says that he is hopeful about how the incident can raise awareness about how casually people use the r-word, without realizing how hurtful it is. As he says in Disability Scoop, ”after Super Bowl XLVII is in the history books…. Flacco [could be a participant] in the national dialogue about why this word is offensive to people with disabilities and what fans can do to help us remove the word from our society.”

After he plays in Sunday’s Super Bowl game, let’s encourage Flacco to take part in such a dialogue and spread the word about how uncool it is to use the r-word!

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Kids With Disabilities (Finally) Get to Join Sports Teams

Photo by Saucy Salad/Flickr


Robert Redfield
Sebastian J4 years ago

Anne k. And Lynn p.

People have used "the N word" former than a century. Doesn't make it right.

And if anyone called anyone the "b" word here, the post would probably have been flagged for being "inappropriate."

Self-centered, self-serving ignorance or hypocrisy is THE crisis of our time.

I applaud Flacco for his apology and what seems to be his understanding of the issue.

Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago

I expect that he is surely feeling LAME for using the word at the level of "professionalism" he has achieved.

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

I agree with Annmari. Flacco meant no disrespect to the mentally impaired or "slow", and if you check a dictionary, the word "retard" is used for many things. I guess we have to come up with a new word for "flame retardants" then?

This is really going over the top with trying to be "P.C.".

Pamela W.
Pamela W5 years ago

Now that's clever ........ it's been timed in 3 hours before I sent it !!!!

Pamela W.
Pamela W5 years ago

What's up with Care2 today? Last post on this thread (prior to this one) shows 5.50 am PST but it's only just appeared !!! Posting this at 9.05 am PST to see what happens .....

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

Just can't help myself from commenting on this piece. Calling someone a retard is an insult. No question about it. But using the word in another situation, i.e. delayed, slow process, retard the ignition, this drug will retard yout heart beat, etc can't be seen as an insult. There are several words that mean different things depending on the situation and in which context they are used. We can't ban words from being used only educate people about the correct circumstances they are used to describe something that's not an individual.

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen5 years ago

Kimberlee W. i am sure an experment can be retarded. like my "ok so crustations feel pain, let us see if they are ticklish and can "laugh. how do i get some lobsters to tickle and how can I tell they are ticklish and not just agrivated for their space being invaded?"

Veronica C.
Veronica C5 years ago

He dropped an F-bomb on camera too. No issue with that?

Roger M.
Past Member 5 years ago

There are many words that have fallen into justified neglect. This is one of them.

Robby Reyes
Past Member 5 years ago

I got to be aware of what I say.