Stupidity Award for Promoting Prejudice

I’ve decided to begin giving an award to persons or groups who show that they are prejudice against persons with mental illnesses. I’m calling it the Stupidity Award for Promoting Prejudice or the SAPP.  I’m sad to announce that the first recipient is Rick  Chandler a writer with NBC SPORTS. 

In a column published February 5th on Off the Bench, Chandler encouraged the Waunakee Wisconsin High School dance team to not change its “rather unique routine” when it competes in an upcoming state competition. Chandler writes:

 In it, the team “gets crazy” while wearing uniforms resembling straitjackets and restraints with the words “Psych Ward” on them. The girls, however, have been forced to tone down their routine after complaints from mental health advocates and parents that their act mocks the mentally ill. Political correctness gone mad? You be the judge….

Not that they should be apologizing in the first place. Exactly who is crazy here? If the girls feel in retrospect that their routine is insensitive and wrong, they should admit it and dump it. If they don’t feel that way, they should keep it unchanged and go full-speed ahead with the madness. Teaching our children to back down under pressure is not cool…Look, until we get a complaint from Giants’ reliever Brian Wilson, I say that his dance routine is good to go as is.    


       If a high school cheerleading squad slapped on black face and belittled persons of color would Chandler be defending  them and saying that “teaching our children to back down under pressure is not cool.”

      The high school principal and leader of the cheerleading squad should use this incidence of poor judgment as a teachable moment. Rather than raising the hackneyed  “political correctness run amok” banner and hunkering down, as educators, they should set an example for their students and explain why this routine is offensive. If they don’t get why, then they need to attend a meeting of the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America.  They need to talk to someone who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder or the parents of someone who has.

     Words matter. Prejudice feeds on ignorance.  One of the reasons why persons with mental illnesses are afraid to seek help and openly discuss their illnesses is because they are afraid they will be branded as being “psycho” and portrayed  exactly as the cheerleading squad shows them. If the high school’s administrators have any leadership skills then they should seize the moment and teach their students a lesson in understanding and acceptance, rather than following Rich Chandler’s frivolous advice.

      I noticed that in an earlier column, Chandler wrote:

First he giggled at William Gay’s last name (that needs to be said at the outset, to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with), but then Glenn Beck ….

     Apparently, Chandler recognizes that it is demeaning to snicker when there is an innuendo about someone’s sexuality. Good for him. It is too bad that he hasn’t turned the mirror on himself and made the connection that it is equally as destructive to belittle or demean someone simply because they have a mental disorder. As someone in a position to influence public opinion, Chandler needs to step forward and apologize.

     Until he does, he deserves a SAPP.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. I’m the parent of a daughter with mental illness and I am outraged that someone at NBC Sports would write such a — as you put it — stupid — statement. I would encourage everyone to post a complaint on his column — several people already have — and to complain to his boss. Pete’s right, he should apologize!

  2. I called the Waunakee Community School District and politely voiced my complaint. The main office phone number is 608-849-2000.

  3. I am shocked at this. Whether a group is making fun of mentally ill people, transgender people, black people, Jewish people, or whatever people… it is not a joke. Thank you for bringing this to light.

  4. I don’t blame the girls that were competing, I think it lies more with the coaches and/or administration that allowed the girls to wear those costumes and dance that routine. The dancers probably have no idea what it is truly like to be in a “psych ward”. No one REALLY knows until they experience it first hand. Nothing is worse than seeing your own child in a mental hospital, sobbing uncontrollably and screaming to “get the demons” out as you stand by helpless to do anything. If anyone had to witness this, they would think twice about mocking mental illness. Mentally ill people do NOT choose to be this way, and I hope no one has to experience what people with mental illness have endure.

    • I respect your opinion, but I want to add that I do blame the girls and their parents, as well as peers, coaches, teachers, and administrators. These are who teenagers and have not developed appropriate ethical standards and who should be held equally accountable. Everyone in the school has a responsibility to use appropriate means to stop harmful actions.

  5. My 10 year old daughter had her first inpatient stay this past weekend. This has been the worst weekend of my life To see my daughter’s pain exploited and ridiculed this way pains me to a degree I can’t even express.

  6. Thank you Pete for speaking on this topic. Thank you Laura for sharing the phone number. I just wrote a letter to the school principal and the school board superintendent! This is part of my letter:

    I hope as punishment, you will “all” receive community service time to volunteer in your local psychiatric hospital. I hope you spend time with family members and realize the hell and anguish we experience in attempting to gain medical attention for our loved ones who are “born” with these horrible mental illnesses ~ which are brain diseases. Or better yet, talk to your own mental health professionals and school psychologist, and ask them how many students have a serious mental illness in your own school district! I wonder what their families think? SHAME ON YOU!

  7. I just read this and I am shocked beyond belief. The ignorance of this coach tells me that he is not suitable to be a leader and the entire administration at this school should be ashamed of themselves. Goodness gracious, this is just unbelievable. You just cannot blame the coach here, but, his school administrators as well as these childrens parents. These children are only doing what they are taught, these adults, and coaches and school administrators should be given community service for their act of cruetly and straight up ignorance. Wow, just a big wow. I would recommend them doing voluntary work at their local mental health services and then they will truly see how hurtful this routine really is.

    • Mulligan. I have to just say one more thing here, because reading this upset me that much. Not only does this warrant the 2011 Stupidty Award, it also gets a Thumbs Up for the 2011 Ignorance Award and Thumps Up for the worst Unethical Act at a school for 2011.

  8. As someone who suffers from mental illness, and attempted/thought about it more times then I would like to admit, I was so saddened to read this. How could people be so insensitive. I get that suicide and menal illness is very stigmatized and why? Because of shame! And why the shame? Because of the lack of education. I don’t blame the students, I blame the ADULT coaches in this matter. Shame on them. People need to start realizing that having a menal disorder or mental illness is NO different then having a physical illness. THEY BOTH CAN KILL!!!

  9. Hitekgadgets says

    I am blown away that this routine was given any awards. Especially in light of the controversy surrounding it. Thanks for letting us know Paul. I have a 14 years old daughter who struggles with mental illness. I can’t even begin to imagine how she would feel if she saw that routine. The few times she has tried to talk about her illness with any peers besides her best friend she has been teased horribly. She keeps much of her pain to herself.
    The coaches and school administration should be ashamed of themselves and the judges at the competition should have disqualified the routine. Shame on them too. Given the statistics, I would venture to guess that there is a girl on the squad who either struggles with mental illness herself or has a close family member or friend that does. The pressure to fit in and the fear of being kicked off the squad would make most kids keep their mouths shut and just do the routine. Shame on the coaches for even coming up with this dance.

  10. Reading an apology before doing it makes it okay? RUBBISH! The routine should be disqualified from competition and the coach should disciplined.

    Do as a commenter earlier has done and call the Waunakee Community School District to voice your complaint. The main office phone number is 608-849-2000.

  11. I hope you have better luck than me when contacting them. I emailed both the Waunakee High School principal and athletic director and also the WACPC president and board this past Tuesday. I am still waiting a reply. It would appear that this issue isn’t of importance or concern for the school or the WACPC organization. I guess I shouldn’t be suprised considering how they have addressed this from the very beginning. Very sad.

  12. If you think this is stupid, what would you think of the fact that the majority of those labeled with schizophrenia, (a diagnosis of exclusion) are never given a proper neurological exam. Hint: Such an exam would be necessary to actually exclude actual medical problems!?

  13. “Laura [Moderator] 02/08/2011 01:45 PM
    I called the Waunakee Community School District and politely voiced my complaint. The main office phone number is 608-849-2000.” What a wonderful KIPP school kind of strategy. I hope many,many will follow this idea. I just called, but the phone line is busy. I hope that means a lot of concerned people are calling to politely voice a serious concern. Thanks for the idea, Laura!