10 December 2023

It’s time to end ‘retard’ as an offensive slur

No one ever uses diabetes or cancer to denigrate another person because having those medical conditions does not make someone lesser or sub-human, so why is ‘retard’ any different?

At the end of Sunday afternoon’s National Rugby League game in Sydney, a frustrated player from the losing side took aim at an official with a verbal outburst that was picked up by on-field microphones and later replayed on television.

Among the repeated use of the f-word, the player used ‘retard’ as a slur to denigrate an official.

He was subsequently disciplined at the time.

The player has since apologised to the official, and in a statement said, “I’d also like to offer my sincere apology to anyone offended by the regrettable language that I used.

“I let myself and my Club down. That is not who I am or what this Club stands for.”

Screenshot of an article posted on foxsports.com.au reporting on the incident.

It is obviously not the first time that the ‘r-word’ has been used in an offensive context, and it is already so well understood in our lexicon that there is no doubting the intention of the how the term was used.

He was clearly not diagnosing a medical condition.

So accepted that it is a derogatory word that a quick Google definition search returns the following:

In recent times where language around disability has become more inclusive and people-centred, the terms ‘intellectual-’ ‘cognitive-’ or ‘learning-disability’ have become preferred over ‘retard’, even though mental retardation remains a medical condition.

So in a world where we accept words and language matters, retard’s derogatory use surely has now come to an end.

No other medical condition is used this way.

No one is vilified as being ‘diabetic’, likewise saying ‘that is so cancer’ makes no sense because neither having diabetes nor cancer makes someone less of a human. Just like those diagnosed as being mentally retarded.

People with intellectual disabilities continually show how rich they can make society, through their creativity, and vision of a world that challenges mainstream views.

The Council for Intellectual Disability Australia quickly put out a tweet admonishing the player and calling for the NRL, which has inclusion programs for people with disabilities, to appropriately respond.

Language is fluid and there are many outdated and expired words already confined to the dustbin of history. Think of the terms that were once used to describe people of colour and ethnic minorities or the LGBTIQ+ community.

It’s now time to add the derogatory use of ‘retard’ to that list.

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