Special Olympian's Letter to Ann Coulter Becomes Internet Sensation

John Frank Stephens - H 2012

John Frank Stephens - H 2012

After a controversial tweet in which the conservative commentator called President Obama "the retard," John Franklin Stephens wrote "being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. ... No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”

A post-debate tweet from conservative media personality Ann Coulter has elicited plenty of responses—but none quite like this.

John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old Special Olympian with Down syndrome, has penned an open letter to Coulter that is getting a lot of attention. It’s received more than 3,700 comments since being posted on the Special Olympics blog Tuesday -- and has been plugged by Maria Shriver (whose brother Tim Shriver is Special Olympics CEO), Perez Hilton, and Awake star BD Wong.

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“Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?” Stephens’ letter begins. He adds that as a man with a disability, he struggles with society's perception that he is “dumb and shallow.”  

"I am not either of those things,” he writes.

Stephens’ letter is in response to a tweet in which Coulter called President Obama "the retard" following Monday night’s presidential debate. She received a backlash from Hollywood and those on the right as well. On Tuesday, she he double downed on her comment, using the phrase again in a different tweet. (See both tweets below.)

In his letter, Stephens goes on to write he initially wondered what Coulter meant by calling Obama the R-word.

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“I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next,” he writes. “I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.”

He concludes Coulter must have meant to insult Obama by linking the president to people with disabilities, such as himself.

“Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor,” he writes. “No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”

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Stephens previously wrote an opinion piece on the use of the word "retard" in Ben Stiller’s 2008 film Tropic Thunder. In that piece, he described the process of penning such an article, writing because he processes information more slowly than the average person, his letters begin as conversations with his father, a process which helps him gather his thoughts.

“I work for days telling my dad what I want to talk about and he tries to write it down for me," Stephens wrote. "Then we do it over and over until we have something that says what I mean.”

When he’s not penning op-ed pieces, Stephens works a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics, which involves speaking around the country on behalf of the organization.

Read Stephens' full letter to Coulter here.