Olympic gold medalist Shaun White is feeling the burn this week after a poor choice of Halloween costume got him into hot water. The 32-year-old snowboarding wonder dressed up as “Simple Jack,” a character from the 2008 Ben Stiller movie “Tropic Thunder” who is mentally disabled. The character was an exaggerated and unkind portrayal of adults with disabilities. At the time, Stiller apologized and said the character was meant to poke fun at Hollywood people who wrote movies about special needs characters simply to get into contention for an Oscar.
Ten years later, it’s quite a surprise that this controversy has come up again, and I’m sure it would not have had Shaun White not posted a photo (now deleted) of himself dressed up as Simple Jack at a Halloween party.
The Huffington Post took a screen shot of the post before it was deleted, and many of White’s fans responded with disappointment at his costume choice.
“Not only am I so incredibly heartbroken but so extremely disappointed,” said one disgruntled commenter. “You are someone that generations look up to and then you do something like this and it be all gone in a second. I would strongly suggest that you go to schools that work with children with disabilities.”
The Special Olympics issued a statement about White’s costume, saying:
“We are truly disappointed that Shaun White, an acclaimed Olympian, would choose this costume which is so offensive and causes so much pain. Disability is not a joke nor should it be a punchline. We hope that Shaun White and others learn that this just continues stigma, stereotypes and discrimination.”
To his credit, White immediately apologized, and it sounds like the Olympian has learned his lesson and will think twice when he next selects a costume.
“It was a last minute decision,” he posted. “It was the wrong one. The Special Olympics were right to call me out on it. They do great work supporting so many tremendous athletes and I am sorry for being insensitive. Lesson learned.”
— Shaun White (@shaunwhite) October 29, 2018
Hopefully Shaun White can reach out and spend some time with people with disabilities so that he can understand what a wonderful part of our society they are. Though I believe his mistake was “innocent,” as in he did not intentionally mean to harm, we still need to spread the word about this incident, and publicize his apology, so that incidents like this won’t happen again.