Olympic snowboarder Shaun White is at the center of controversy thanks to an insensitive Halloween costume he wore over the weekend when he dressed up as Simple Jack from the 2008 film Tropic Thunder.
The 32-year-old shared a photo of himself as Simple Jack, a special needs character who serves as an over-the-top, intentionally offensive vehicle to mock Hollywood's tendency to use the stories of disabled people to generate Oscar buzz.
The Simple Jack character stirred up controversy 10 years ago when the movie debuted, with some thinking that it helped to enable the stereotypes that it intended to mock — and White's costume was no different.
Backlash was immediate on social media, not only from White's fans, but also from organizations like the Special Olympics, who told TMZ Sports it was "truly disappointed" with White's choice in costume.
"We are truly disappointed that Shaun White, an acclaimed Olympian, would choose this costume which is so offensive and causes so much pain," Soeren Palumbo, co-founder of Special Olympics' Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, said in a statement. "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."
Eventually, White deleted the photo from his Instagram on Monday, later issuing an apology. He took to social media to write: "I owe everyone in the Special Olympics community an apology for my poor choice of Halloween costume the other night. It was a last minute decision. 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."
The Special Olympics responded to White's message, writing on Twitter: "Thank you @shaunwhite for listening to our community. You always have an invitation to shred with our athletes at #XGames Aspen!"
At the time of Tropic Thunder's debut 10 years ago, the Special Olympics spoke out against the movie frequently referring to Simple Jack as the "r word."
"When I heard about it, I felt really hurt inside," the organization's global messenger Dustin Plunkett said in 2008, according to CBS News. "I cannot believe a writer could write something like that. It's not the way that we want to be portrayed. We have feelings. We don't like the word 'retard.' We are people. We're just like any other people out there. We want to be ourselves and not be discriminated against."
Robert Downey Jr. was among those who defended the movie's usage of free speech. "I think it's open to interpretation and that's the great thing," he said at the movie's premiere. "You know, if I want to protest something because it offends me that's my right as an American, and it's also any artist's right to say and do whatever they wanna do."
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