Calgary

Little people advocates push to change 'midget' hockey name

An organization representing people with dwarfism is pushing for Alberta hockey teams to remove the word "midget" from age categorizations and league names.

Authorities in Edmonton, Calgary look to national group to direct change

Hockey Alberta says it will be discussing terminology in the sport following criticism of the use of "midget." However, the association could not give a timeline for that debate. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

An organization representing people with dwarfism is pushing for Alberta hockey teams to remove the word "midget" from age categorizations and league names.

The word is one of several to distinguish hockey's age categories, which include novice, atom, peewee, bantam and midget. Midget represents the group of players aged 15 to 17.

Instead of saying U-18, as under-18 teams are described in soccer, for example, minor hockey has continued to use these placeholder words signifying small. 

But for some people who have the medical condition dwarfism, the word "midget" is a commonly hurled insult by bullies.

"We do have members in our group that have dwarfism and kids that are wanting to play," Leanne Barnes, Association of Little People of Alberta board member, said Tuesday. "They have to be in a league or go into an arena where there is a word that's used as a slur against them."

Barnes, who herself has dwarfism, was the subject of many such slurs as a child. Now that she's a mother, she's seen a few instances of her son being bullied in the same way, but to a lesser extent. That, to her, suggests society is changing, so the time is right for institutions like hockey teams to do so, as well.

The term "midget" dates back to when people with dwarfism were used at attractions in circuses and freak shows, she said.

"It has really bad connotations and it gives a lot of hurt," Barnes said.

Change considered

The association contacted Sport Alberta this week to remove the word. The organization has not responded to a request for comment by CBC News.

However, the debate has caught the attention of local hockey authorities. 

In an email statement, Hockey Calgary spokesperson Brad Lyon said terminology for age divisions is a matter of national regulation. He said the group would be working with Hockey Canada and other provincial regulators to discuss reviewing the terminology.

Provincially, Alberta does use U-18 or U-16 categories rather than midget, Hockey Edmonton's president, Mark Doram, said in an email statement.

"Presently, as a local minor hockey association, we are waiting for direction so we can all introduce the change at the same time," Doram wrote. "It won't affect just one category but the whole hockey structure when we make a change such as this."

Hockey Canada previously told The Canadian Press that discussion would happen either at its next scheduled members' meeting in May or the annual congress next fall.

Pushback

Advocates for little people, who have spoken out on this, have received a great deal of backlash, Barnes said, in particular from people who say they are too sensitive or too politically correct.

"It's strange as to why people are so tied to that word," Barnes said. "Maybe they say they don't use it against little people, but if it was any other word, like the R-word or the N-word, I just don't think people would be fighting to keep it. So I don't understand why people are fighting back."

She said the change, while insignificant to many, would make a big difference in some players' lives.

The push to remove "midget" from sports teams has garnered attention throughout Canada lately, with organizations including Athletics Canada, BC Hockey, Ontario Basketball Association, Football Canada, Hockey PEI, Hockey Quebec and others saying they will explore dropping midget from their terminology.

With files from The Canadian Press, Elizabeth Withey and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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