Super Bowl LIII opened with four and a half minutes of Peyton Manning plugging his creative genius—a scene featuring gladiators—to a room of executives who seem doubtful of his brilliant idea. He proceeds to tell them he’s already rented the Colosseum for the actual shoot. Then John Malkovich, standing in the middle of the Colosseum, enters via video call and begins talking about what a trite concept Manning is proposing.
Before Malkovich begins his rant, however, one of the executives exclaims in disbelief that John Malkovich is actually at the Roman Colosseum. Peyton Manning states condescendingly, “Of course he’s at the Roman Colosseum. Was I stuttering earlier?”
Innocent verbal nip? Comedic remark? Witty humor? Viewer comments ranged from, “This might be the most well-written commercial I’ve ever seen!” to “This is absolutely hilarious!” to “Brilliant!”
It’s always difficult to understand when negative and hurtful words spoken at the expense of others flow so nonchalantly and go essentially overlooked by most people. Did anyone even notice that Peyton Manning slighted the more than 3 million people who stutter in the United States?
I once read that if you have a message you want to get across to America, there’s no bigger stage than the NFL Super Bowl, given the more than 100 million people who tune in each year. What was the message sent across America this February? That being comedic trumps being conscientious. That disparaging remarks related to stuttering are acceptable. That perpetuating negative stereotypes is allowable.
As I pondered the message so flippantly communicated in this opening video, I began to wonder about the number of people involved in its making. So I did a little research.
Generating an NFL ad requires a creative team to conceive the idea. Then they use pre-production and production teams including directors, managers, researchers, screenwriters, designers, producers, editors and effects specialists. Of course, there’s the cast—in this case, a famous athlete, a big-name actor as well as several other speaking roles. A negotiating team then purchases the ad space; a legal team reviews the ad before submission to the network; and a “Standards and Practices” group ultimately approves the ad for the public.
Do you see all the crossroads—all of the opportunities for someone to question that line of dialogue? With so many clear crossroads in the making and airing of this four-minute video, how disheartening is the realization that dozens of people simply went along. Seemingly not one of these dozens of people considered the far-reaching consequences of a disparaging remark about stuttering.
Perpetuating stereotypes always results in harmful consequences for the quality of life of those living under that stereotype. As we find ourselves at a crossroads of advocacy, like this one, for those affected by communication disorders, I hope we always choose to speak up, to stir up, to rise up! All voices matter, whether or not they’re fluent!
Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing and the director of the Language Acquisition Preschool at the University of Kansas. She is a multilingual SLP providing treatment in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Mumy specializes in stuttering, early language and literacy, and bilingualism/biculturalism. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. email@example.com