During a Wimbledon post-match press conference overnight, Bernard Tomic was asked, "Tennis etiquette requires that both players arrive on court at the same time. You were kept waiting about eight minutes. Any idea why?"
His response: "Yeah, well, I think because he [Fernando Verdasco] was up in the locker getting something taped on as when I left and I thought he was leaving, so I just happened to walk out. Yeah, I did get to the court prior to him very early, and unfortunately I had to stand on court like a retard."
Bernard Tomic is the number two ranked tennis player in Australia. He is in the prime of his life with the eyes of Australia and the world on him. And, because he was made to feel less powerful for a few minutes by being left to wait, he thought it made him feel like a 'retard'.
Bernard Tomic's favourite footy team, the Gold Coast Titans, regularly partner with the Down Syndrome Association of QLD. In Tomic's home town, the Gold Coast, children and adults with intellectual disability have the honour and privilege of walking out into a stadium and 'standing around'. But they do it with a more optimistic outlook than a 23-year-old with the world at his feet, they view it as an exciting highlight; they are honoured by their community and local sporting heroes. Proud parents and friends look on while they visit their favourite players, who respectfully chat to them about their sport.
When the 'R' word is used, you're telling the world you think it's the worst thing that could happen to a person. A person not like you. A person you are better than. You are saying that having an intellectual disability is about as bad as it gets.
Words have power. And when, at the tender age of 23, you have a global audience of young fans looking up to you; your words hold so much power that they bring responsibility.
'Retard' is not 'just a word'. It's a medical term no longer in usage within this context, commandeered as an insult and as socially unacceptable as the 'n' word.
"What's wrong with 'retard'? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind. I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone." -– Joseph Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics Virginia athlete and Global Messenger (via r-word.org)
Bernard Tomic, you are 23 years old. An adult. You don't have youth to blame or hide behind. There's no 'boys will be boys'. That was never a real excuse in the first place.
It's time to grow up and step into the position in the world you created for yourself after winning the genetic lottery.
I won the genetic lottery too, Bernard, with 1:1000 odds. My son has Down syndrome. He is beautiful, he is loved, and he will always know his place in the world and be valued for it.
He may never be #2 on a sports ladder, but he sure as hell won't grow up as thoughtless and disrespectful as you are currently choosing to be.
I'll choose a different role model for now, until you sign the pledge.
Take the 'R'-word pledge with 645,000 others. Spread the word to end the word.
Sign up here, and encourage Tomic to sign it too.