Actor John C. McGinley of the hit show Scrubs wasn’t playing for laughs before an audience of students at the University of Southern California Wednesday. Rather than speaking as bitter, narcissistic “Dr. Cox,” McGinley appeared as ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society. His message: spread the word to end the word–the “R-word.”
He encouraged young Hollywood, in conjunction with Delta Kappa Alpha, the professional cinema fraternity at USC, to embrace their power to effect change through what they write and produce.
“Perhaps next time you feel compelled to use the words ‘retard,’ ‘retarded’ or the suffix ‘-tard?,'” wrote McGinley in a blog piece the day before Spread the Word’s annual awareness day: “Stop. Just for a second. And see if sprinkling your language with love and compassion, doesn’t lead you to discovering a new, different and possibly better way of saying the exact same thing?”
The Spread the Word to End the Word website contains the following mission statement:
Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. What started as a youth-led grassroots effort in 2009 by a small group of students with one simple call to action, has evolved to communities across the world not only taking the pledge.
In 2008, Special Olympics launched the www.r-word.org website to combat the inappropriate use of the R-word in common usage and helped lead protests against media use of the word in response to the film ‘Tropic Thunder.’ In 2009, the youth-led “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign launched with rallies in K-12 schools and universities around the country.
McGinley’s involvement in the Spread the Word movement owes to his son Max having been born with Down Syndrome. Since that time 17 years ago, he has been on an active course to educate the public about this and similar conditions. One of McGinley’s tactics is to have people equate the R-word with other derogatory words, such as the N-word, so that it no longer becomes acceptable in everyday conversation.
The actor also has a long-standing relationship with the Special Olympics. McGinley and the Special Olympic athletes, for instance, conducted a letter-writing campaign and social media blitz after a guest used the R-word on commentator Bill O’Reilly’s Fox talk show. This occasioned a brief on-air apology by the host:
The F/X network now includes the R-word as one of three words that are not allowed to be broadcast.
John C. McGinley can be seen on the sophomore season of the TBS workplace comedy Ground Floor. He plays tycoon Remington Stewart Mansfield.
Follow Wynn Marlow on Twitter @wynnmarlow.