ESPN’s Steve Wulf took an in-depth look at Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden’s involvement with the Special Olympics on Wednesday. Haden is a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, the first NFL player to be awarded the honor. Haden’s main focus is the Spread The Word To End The Word campaign, which raises awareness of how terrible the use of the “R-word” can be.
Haden said, “Open up your vocabulary, people. The R-word is hurtful, hateful and ignorant. Like the N-word, it should not be part of our language." He first became involved with the Special Olympics because of his close bond with his younger brother, Jacob, who suffers from a cognitive disorder. Haden said of Jacob that, “He's just a really cool kid, a blessing to me and my family. I play for him, and I would do anything for him.”
The campaign began in 2007 after a speech by a Palatine, Illinois high school student named Soeren Palumbo gave a speech to his peers challenging them to use different, non-hateful language in their everyday lives. Palumbo went on to work with the Special Olympics while in college at Notre Dame and the Spread The Word To End The Word movement was officially kicked off in 2009.
Though Haden is a Global Ambassador and has taken the campaign as one of his most personal battles, the movement is mostly centered around student-led efforts to educate their peers. They have also taken to social media to call out celebrities and media members who have used the R-word publicly. One such person is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who has used the word in public twice. Haden says he has not yet spoken to James about his usage of the word, but added, “I think he's learned that lesson. Besides, there are other lessons to learn. I would encourage him, or anyone, to go to a Special Olympics event. That's where you'll see the pure joy of competition, a joy we should all remember, no matter how big we get.”