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Joe Flacco’s self-correction after using R-word is a step, special-needs advocate says

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco this week became the latest high-profile person to use the R-word, when he was asked his opinion on having a Super Bowl in a cold-weather stadium.

“Yeah, I think it’s retarded,” Flacco said at the Monday press conference, according to news reports .

Flacco immediately corrected himself. “I probably shouldn’t say that,” Flacco said. “I think it’s stupid.”

He also later apologized for his choice of words.

Ellen Seidman, author of the blog Love That Max and the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, sees Flacco’s immediate self-correction as a positive step in the campaign to raise awareness that the term is disrespectful to people with intellectual disabilities.

“Obviously he knew instantaneously that it was wrong,” Seidman said. “I hope kids and teens out there who look up to him think, ‘Oh, this important quarterback, this big star, is apologizing publicly, so maybe I shouldn’t say that word.’ I like that he was man enough to own up to it, too.”

The Special Olympics launched a campaign several years ago, “Spread the Word to End the Word,” to encourage people to stop using a word that many find hurtful and demeaning. But Seidman points out that it goes beyond just not using the R-word.

“Even if people don’t speak it, it’s on their minds,” Seidman said. “Many of us hope it gets the conversation going about how we think about people with cognitive impairments. It’s about the other R-word: Respect. You can get rid of a word, but does that mean other kids will see my son as an equal? Nope. ... If somebody were to invent a wand that would instantly erase the word from people’s brains, it still wouldn’t accomplish the goal here.”

To that end, Seidman posted a moving video to her blog last spring to tell people why the word is offensive to people with special needs and their families, even when it is not being directed at a person with intellectual disabilities.

“It’s not just about one word,” Seidman said. “I personally believe there has to be a lot more initiatives, particularly in the schools, to let kids see what’s alike instead of what’s unalike, and that include our children so they’re not seen as so different. That’s ultimately what all of us parents of kids with special needs want.”

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