'Midget' designation in sports leagues 'something that just needs to change,' advocates say

The term "midget," which has been used as a demeaning descriptor for short people, has become a designation adopted by sports leagues across the country — but now, there are calls for that to change.

'When you're talking about hate, isn't it time to change?' says Little People of Manitoba president

Winnipeg's Vivek Bhagria has represented Canada at the World Dwarf Games. He believes that dropping the 'midget' designation for sports teams now would set a positive message for future generations. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The term "midget," which has been used as a demeaning descriptor for short people, has become a designation adopted by sports leagues across the country — but now, there are calls for that to change.

Hockey, football and baseball leagues use the term to classify the 15-17 age group, but advocates say the negative connotation surrounding the word means it should be dropped.

Samantha Rayburn-Trubyk, president of Little People of Manitoba, is spearheading the push for the change.

"I knew that this … wasn't coming from something with bad intentions, it was really just something people didn't think about," she said.

"Unless you're living with this word every single day being a negative word, you wouldn't think about it."

But for those living with dwarfism, the language matters, Rayburn-Trubyk says.

"I think unless you're living within a group that is normally marginalized, people might not get it. At the end of the day, I don't really think it's something for people to get. It's something that just needs to change, so we can get everyone to feel inclusive."

Sport Manitoba won't mandate change

She is aware there may be pushback from people who want the old language to remain, but feels sport should be focused on inclusion.

"I understand it's history and tradition and all that, but when you're talking about hate, isn't it time to change?" said Rayburn-Trubyk.

After meeting with Rayburn-Trubyk, Sport Manitoba says it's on board with the change. 

"Once people are aware of it and know that there is other language that we can use and how important language is, I think people will do the right thing," said Janet McMahon, director of sport at the amateur sports agency.

Sport Manitoba's Janet McMahon says the agency supports the change, but will focus on educating leagues about the term, rather than mandating a change. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

However, despite being supportive of the change, McMahon said Sport Manitoba will opt to educate its leagues about the term, rather than mandate a change.

With Manitoba taking the lead on the issue, she believes the rest of the country may follow suit.

"What would be great is for it to happen nationally," she said.

"A lot of our sport organizations are ruled by our national sport organization so it would be easier to get everyone on board and do it at the same time."​

Vivek Bhagria, who has represented Canada at the World Dwarf Games, grew up hearing insults about his height.

"I felt hurt, because when I go grocery shopping, people would say, 'Oh Mom, look, it's a midget,' and I was, like, 'Why are they calling me a midget?'" said Bhagria.

"Can't it be just my name, or a little person or a dwarf? 'Midget' is a bad word."

Bhagria believes that changing the language now sets a positive message for future generations.

"I want them to be called the right term, 'cause I know how it felt back then and I don't want them to feel the same way."

Rayburn-Trubyk said the next step in dropping the "midget" designation comes Jan. 10, when she's set to meet with Sport Manitoba.

She is hoping to have the word removed from Sport Manitoba leagues as soon as possible. 

Hockey, football and baseball leagues use to the term "midget" to classify the 15-17 age group, but advocates say the negative connotation surrounding the word means it should be dropped. 1:50

With files from Ahmar Khan

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