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Angela Van Etten

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Dwarf Tossing and Exploitation

Posted: 10/19/11 08:40 PM ET

Dwarf tossing masquerades as a "sport" when barroom bullies compete for prize money awarded to whoever throws a dwarf the farthest. The dwarf serves as a human projectile when tossed into the air and crashes into a pile of padded mattresses.

Many express dismay when they learn about this abomination and are impressed that Florida and New York have laws that ban dwarf tossing in commercial places licensed to serve alcohol. In contrast, others have no problem with an activity reminiscent of 1930s carnivals because the dwarf is a paid, willing participant. They forget that there are many illegal activities where the participants are willing -- assisted suicide, prostitution, pornography, and drug dealing, to name a few. In all these cases, the State has legitimately exercised its police power to protect the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the people.

In chafing against the dwarf tossing prohibition, some argue that individuals with dwarfism should be free to exploit their own bodies. After all, basketball players exploit their height, movie stars exploit their good looks, and comedians exploit their personal traits. Dwarfs should be no exception. I agree.

There is no law against people of short stature exploiting their size in many settings. Our distinctive appearance fascinates the public. One example of this fascination has been the popularity of reality television shows about Little People on the TLC, a Discovery Company. The stars of these shows have definitely taken advantage of their uniqueness and for a fee have allowed cameras to give an inside view of their lives.

Billy Barty, an actor and comedian, got many a laugh from references to his short stature. Verne Troyer gained celebrity status for his role as Mini-Me in Austin Powers movies. Countless Little People have earned a living or seasonal employment as costumed characters for Disney, George Lucas, or at shopping malls.

After all, we do stand out as different and even polite people take a second look when they see us. Many Little People also use this distinction to their advantage when it comes to marketing and sales. For example, Hervé Villechaize lent his celebrity to sell Dunkin Donuts designer mini éclairs. Bill Albaugh was a Little Person and for 33 years was the living trademark for the Squirt soda drink.

So why ban dwarf tossing in bars? Although it is another example of people with dwarfism capitalizing on their size, dwarf tossing is different. The balance tilts against the individual's right to exploit his or her own body and in favor of the State's duty to protect the people.

Dwarf tossing is dangerous to the individual being tossed! Dr. Cheryl Reid, a member of the Little People of America Medical Advisory Board, has warned that dwarf tossing may cause sudden paralysis or death. Various YouTube clips that show dwarf tossing participants geared up with helmets and padding falsely suggest the equipment provides protection from injury. In 1989, Dr. Aldo F. Berti, a Miami neurosurgeon, said there was no way to make dwarf-tossing safe because the equipment does not give any stability to the weak musculoskeletal complexion. As a result, it is a potential financial burden to the State when inevitable injury occurs to the uninsurable dwarf who is tossed. A career in dwarf tossing is likely to secure the tossee a check from the Social Security Administration or a plot in the cemetery.

Dwarf tossing negatively affects all people with dwarfism because it endorses society's decision to strip dwarfs of their personhood and treat them as objects. Consequently, an employer may not take a job candi­date with dwarfism seriously, wrongly believing that it is okay to discriminate because dwarfs are only good for freak show entertainment.

Dwarf tossing appeals to a lower instinct in people and creates a hostile environment in which Little People are disrespected and ridiculed. It legitimizes bully behavior. For example, before Florida passed the dwarf tossing law in 1989, the environment became so toxic that children and adult Little People feared "copy-cat" behavior and being thrown against their will. In January 1990, I was interviewed by a radio shock-jock whose only intent was to ridicule Little People. Debating the proposed dwarf tossing bill in New York was far from his mind. Instead, he invited me to his city where he offered to meet me at the airport, put me in his trunk, and take me some place to throw me. His attitude was typical of the disrespect and derision dwarf tossing generated for people with dwarfism during this time.

Dwarf tossing is offensive by any standard of human decency. A morally bankrupt practice, it disregards the value of people made in God's image. People of short stature have the right to be treated with respect, dignity, and equality. There is no basis for repealing the Florida ban.