Vince Vitrano is an Emmy Award-winning anchor with TODAY’S TMJ4 in Milwaukee. He is also a member of Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Board of Directors. For this year’s Spread the Word to End the Word Day, Vitrano has written about his passion for Special Olympics and how the words we choose matter. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
By Vince Vitrano
I used to use the R-word.
Lots of us did as kids. We just threw it around as an insult. Sometimes we teased each other in jest. Other times, we used it referring to things that were lesser than. I never considered from where the word derived its meaning, or why it was an insult. It just was.
While I certainly, even as a child, never meant for the use of the word to be seriously injurious to anyone else, I never considered that it might be. I didn’t wonder, what if someone who has an intellectual disability heard the word used in that capacity? What was I saying about him or her? What negative value did I assign to his or her life?
As a member of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Wisconsin and a longtime volunteer, some of the most important people in my life now are our athletes. Far from their character being the object of insult, I try to be more like so many of them all the time. Courageous and daring. Kind and accepting. Positive and loving. Our athletes inspire me every day.
I still encounter people who use the R-word. Most aren’t bad or ill intending. They just don’t know. They haven’t thought it through. I don’t admonish them. I try to help them. I start by simply saying, “You know you can’t say that word.”
I follow with information about the origins of the word and about my passion for Special Olympics. I tell them about our athletes, and that it matters to them and to me, that we abolish the R-word from our vocabularies.
What’s in a word? A lot. The words we choose matter, sometimes beyond how we may have considered. We are all better off without the R-word, which is demeaning and degrading regardless of intent. I promise to continue to spread the word to end the word.
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