Life, liberty and the pursuit of dwarf tossing

Jimmy Leonard, a British bouncer and truck driver, won the British Dwarf-Throwing Championships by tossing “Lenny the Giant,” a 4-foot-4-inch, 98-pound British dwarf, a distance of 11 feet 5 inches at the Worcester pub in Sutton.

It’s no joke: Dwarf tossing is a sport. There are competitions, contenders and big money on the line. Some dwarfs have made careers out of it, reportedly earning up to six-figure salaries on tour.

Dwarf tossing is a contest in which dwarfs wear harnesses and allow bar patrons to pick them up and hurl them through the air onto mattresses. This activity usually takes place in a bar or sports facility. Whoever throws the dwarf the farthest wins a cash prize or trophy as well as the admiration of spectators and fellow participants.

Even though dwarf tossing seems like a positive sum game where everyone wins, there are those who hold little tolerance of what they deem a “demeaning” pastime. The advocacy group “Little People of America” argues dwarf-tossing encourages treating dwarfs as objects. It’s not clear if the advocates of LPA are grumpy or dopey, but they’re certainly not happy.

Robert and Angela Van Ettan, who represent this group, convinced Florida’s legislators that dwarf-tossing should be illegal. “Think of football,” said Angela Van Ettan. “The dwarf actually is the ball. He’s the object of the competitions Ö being objectified and dehumanized.”

Ernie Ott, a spokesman for LPA, claims this deprecation extends not only to the individual, but to all little people: “Dwarf tossing may help financially the person who does it … However, it tears down the structure and the esteem that little people are trying to gain.” LPA also argues dwarf tossing is dangerous.

Motivated by vigorous lobbying by LPA, a Florida court passed a law in October 1989 that bans all forms of dwarf tossing in pubs and bars. The law empowers the state to impose fines or revoke the liquor license of establishments that host dwarf tossing contests.

Challenging this ban as unconstitutional, “Dave the Dwarf,” a morning talk-radio personality whose real name is Dave Flood, is currently suing in a Florida circuit court to overturn a law that bans dwarf tossing – he is not suing for any damages. He argues the law unfairly singles out people with dwarfism. Furthermore, he argues the state shouldn’t be able to dictate how he earns his living.

Denouncing the law as paternalistic, Flood stated, “They assume because you have some physical handicap you can’t make decisions for yourself Ö I don’t have a mental handicap. I don’t like the government telling me what I can and cannot do.” Flood argues that if he were seven feet tall, he’d be making money playing basketball, so why can’t he likewise profit from his short stature?

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court names Governor Jeb Bush and the head of the state agency, which enforces the 1989 law. Neither Governor Bush nor the state agency had seen the lawsuit, and neither would comment on it.

Dwarf tossing is a relatively new phenomenon, one obviously not foreseen by our forefathers. Therefore, there is nothing in our Constitution that specifically covers dwarf tossing. However, it’s clear from the spirit of this sacred document that such tossing should be protected under the Bill of Rights.

Little people should be guaranteed the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – however he or she might conceive it. This ban on dwarf tossing is certainly unconstitutional and clearly politically motivated. Though the charges by the Little People of America are numerous, these charges remain legally illegitimate.

Activities between two consenting adults, no matter how short, should be unrestricted; they should be able to do what they want with their bodies as long as they’re not infringing upon the rights of others. In the words of the political philosopher John Stuart Mill, “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental or spiritual.”

The majority should not tyrannize the minority simply because they don’t approve of its conception of what is good to them. The tyranny of the majority shouldn’t be able to keep the little man down. As Flood declares, “I’m a dwarf and I want to be tossed.”

The LPA’s argument that dwarf tossing demeans and exploits little people is also not a good argument for infringing upon the rights of little people. Dwarf tossee “Lenny the Giant” relates, “I used to work on an assembly line at an electronics factory – that’s where I really felt degraded.” Many dwarfs interviewed by the media have in fact expressed their appreciation of dwarf tossing careers: They get to travel, have all their expenses paid and meet interesting people.

It’s difficult to say an adult who voluntarily enters into agreements to earn 500 dollars per day is being exploited when the average wage for alternative activities might only be 100 dollars per day. If such an activity is considered exploitation, aren’t professional basketball and football players being exploited in the same way?

Furthermore, the indirect effects of an individual’s livelihood aren’t a good reason to ban that livelihood. The government cannot ban the activity of a person simply because other people might find it unsavory. If dwarf tossing is to be banned for demeaning little people, why not ban strip clubs as well, since they demean women?

 

Lastly, dwarf tossing does not cause the injury the LPA purports. “Little Mr. T,” a 31-year-old Puerto Rican, asserts, “I’ve never been hurt … Before this I was a professional wrestler for 17 years.” In fact, this sport is much less dangerous than other sports adults regularly participate in. The little people engaging in this sport wear protective gear, knee and elbow padding, neck braces and helmets, and are typically thrown into a pile of mattresses.

Though this might not be a legal issue many people will take seriously, I declare that as soon as the government is allowed to tell dwarfs they cannot be tossed, then it’s just a slippery slope until the government is dictating what careers the rest of us can pursue.

The Florida court needs to repeal their ban on dwarf tossing. If dwarf tossing is outlawed, only outlaws will be tossing dwarfs. If dwarf tossing is banned, then the terrorists have won. Let liberty shine not only upon the tall people, but the shorter ones as well. Let these dwarfs go back to work, earn a living and be able to once again sing, “heave-ho, heave-ho, it’s off to work I go.”

 

Matt Brophy’s columns appear alternate weeks. He
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