Make Room For The Stuttering

Famous Stutterers Who Don’t Stutter

Posted on: March 13, 2012

The story about Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal – former US basketball player) coming out as a person who stutters has got a lot of attention on the blogs and social media.

On March 3, a video clip was released featuring Shaq discussing that he stutters for a Dove (soap) commercial. I didn’t like it! I don’t buy it! Shaq was a huge media presence in his basketball prime and he never spoke about stuttering when legions of kids adored him and looked up to him. He would have ramped up his role model status if he had “come out” when he was actively playing hoops!

My fellow blogger and mentor Daniele Rossi, of Stuttering Is Cool writes his reflection about another famous stutterer getting attention, even though he doesn’t stutter. Daniele and I appear to agree on this issue.

I think if famous people are going to be asked to promote stuttering awareness, then they should stutter. At least on one or two words. Or have at least one person who actually stutters be a spokesperson for something. Hey, maybe even a woman!

I posted my thoughts about this on one of the stuttering Facebook groups, and I got a lot of heat. People said I should give him a break – that it’s great that there is one more avenue for stuttering awareness.

Here’s what my comment was:

Sorry Shaq! I don’t buy it!  Ordinary people who stutter (and use Dove soap) can also be comfortable in our own skin!

Here are some of the responses:

Love this clip, any one that puts themselves forward to talk and advertise their own stuttering, as Americans call it, deserves applause in my eyes, whether they are celebs or ordinary folk.  In fact celebs can get criticised and people assume its for their own gains, which is often wrong. The way the media has spun it about being comfortable in his own skin is just advertising, that’s the way I look at it.

Pam- I think you are over thinking this. Remember it is after all an ad campaign. Remember he is being paid to use Dove products, of which there are many besides soap. Is anyone trashing Vice President Biden because he came out of the stuttering closet later in life, as did James Earl Jones? I for one think it’s great that he’s out of that closet. The youths out there love him and he is a wonderful role model, far better than Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley or the other bad boys of basketball. This man is a gentle giant and I applaud him.

I’m thinking that you would like to see “regular” people cast in the limelight as people who stutter and “overcame” stuttering, correct?

 Not sure what the big hooplah is…yes, celebrities endorsing a product is always a bit cheesy, but I think that the ad raises stuttering awareness in a light-hearted and approachable way to a mass audience. I applaud him and I make no claims to know whether or not he uses Dove soap or truly stutters, and find myself truly concerned with neither. I suppose we could raid his shower in a soap detection effort and personal files for formal diagnosis documentation, but why? He’s a relatively positive public figure and he’s not only raising awareness, but also promoting positive self-image and self-acceptance. A bit kitschy? Maybe. But, effective, nonetheless.

I understand the frustration regarding predominantly male PWS role models who are mostly/completely recovered. It’s definitely a sore point–however, since there tend to be more males who stutter than females [to our current knowledge], I suppose I have come to just not fixate on that particular disparity in public portrayals of stuttering. And, yes, it would be desirable and healthy and refreshing to see someone stutter openly–onscreen, on camera, etc. Perhaps, one day we will arrive at that point. For now, I suppose that any progress toward giving stuttering a somewhat positive, vocal, national, viral platform is progress in my book.

I like the fact that he said he was comfortable in his skin, AND he still stutters. It’s Dove’s tag line, but I think it’s a great message for PWS – that we can be comfortable in our skin AND stutter. Being comfortable with our speech is part of being comfortable in our skin. This may be the first time he’s talked about it, and I think it’s a great thing.

The last comment reflects that Shaq says he is comfortable in his own skin and he still stutters. Wouldn’t it have been great if he had stuttered, just once, in this clip?

What do you think?

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9 Responses to "Famous Stutterers Who Don’t Stutter"

Actually, if you listen to the commercial, Shaq says that he still stutters, but covers it up with that big grin of his. You are going to see a LOT of covert stutterers smiling their heads off. 🙂

It would have been great, and he may have indeed stuttered during filming, but the commercial directors would have likely edited it out. One of our stuttering friends who’s a journalist says that when he does radio pieces, they edit out every last disfluency.

I think Pam we need more people who stutter in the media eye like you with your courage and heart. We need it in the stuttering community, we need someone who has that power of influence to speak out and stutter, however they want, but confidently fearlessly. I don’t know when or who that will be but your right, im british and i know about shaq and many black british boys do. He had that chance to make a change at the height of his career, and its a shame.

But…

It’s not easy, you know its not easy. Especially for a man who is a top basketball player, i mean a pretty hegemonic masculine role. Also among the black community who were among his collegues and fans maybe, but theres double shame that comes along with stuttering. I think it’s hard! i think stuttering makes men feel less of man. I see it in my brother and all the numerous encounters i have had with black boys who stutter, stuttering is a no no. Theres a heightened masculinity that is created and any vulnerablity is a sign weakness. Im sure shaq’s been conditioned in this way, as well as other celebrities who stutter.

I feel we need to look to the future, and its even more important now to empower kids who stutter, make them confident stutterers. I don’t know whether people in power who stutter have the balls to openly, as there may be too much at risk or to save their reputation. It’s safe doing a dove advert, make light of it fluently.

Maybe that strength comes from us ordinary folk, we need to influence as many people as possible.

Or maybe not lol who knows

Great comment and insight Lesley – thanks! I guess I am thinking since some other black sports stars came out during their careers that it might not be as shameful as it once was – anyway, it’s a moot point, as I can’t as closely speak to the black male experience of stuttering, but my 20+ years with a black man as my partner taught me a thing or two about cultural stigmas, closely guarded and cultivated machismo and the intense need for acceptable image. So, i get what you are saying . . . . .
The inter-racial dynamic of our relationship was actually more profound, especially for him.

Interesting post. I think most people who speak publicly try to be as fluent as they can. I am sure some avoid words, some cover it up with a grin and some substitute words. Maybe some use some strategy they have learned. I think it is great that he announced it to the world.- I am doing a big workshop next week (I am sure I will stutter here and there) and announcing to 80 SLPs that I stutter- It is not easy. He is announcing it to the world. What the stuttering groups decide to do with this advertisement is their option but I don’t think we should fault a basketball star for coming out about stuttering. It would have been very false if he made himself stutter at the end. Being a pws I needed to meet others who had achieved some fluency. I guess we all have our own opinions. Good to share.

I don’t get what’s not to “buy” here. I was inspired by the ad because it was the first celebrity I’ve ever seen who disclosed that he “still stutters to this day.” All the other ones say they “overcame” or “ourgrew” their stuttering and throw their newfound fluency in your face. For me, that small distinction made a huge difference, and it’s the small changes that pave the way for bigger ones. Sure, ideally I’d love to turn on the TV and see a celebrity stuttering openly RIGHT NOW (and I have no doubt that one day we will), but this is still a step in the right direction. After all, from what I gather, Shaq is/has been a covert PWS until this point. If this is the case, then he may be in the midst of his own coming-out process just as many coverts are, and for many, the first step in accepting this part of ourselves is telling others that we have it (which is exactly what he’s doing). Celebrity or no celebrity, that willingness to be honest about a part of yourself (that you STILL live with) deserves to be respected, not criticized. I think that, much like the process of gradually coming to accept our stuttering, small steps that move us in the direction of self-acceptance should always be honored and celebrated.

I gotta share this… rockstar Peter Murphy has a stutter and said I rock!

I just saw him play a club show, and I lucked into literally the best seat in the house, as close as if I were sitting at a table across from him. There was something about his demeanor that really spoke to me, the way he holds all the darkness of goth, and yet he has this really childlike playful side.

Halfway through the show, I figured it out: He’s a stutterer. I’m sure most people didn’t notice, but as stutterers we see what others don’t. He stuttered very cleanly, no secondaries, just extending the initial sounds of a few words a bit.

He is very touchy-feely. He touched me on the nose with his forefinger in sort of an anointing way, and had tantric touch exchanges with almost everyone in the front row of this San Francisco show. I’m realizing that touch is a way for stutterers to connect on a nonverbal level, and as my social anxiety is beginning to lessen I’m finding myself more free to touch people casually.

Towards the end of the show I was clapping enthusiastically for him and he turned to me, looked me in the eye, and said over the microphone for everyone to hear: “You Rock”. Wow, what a powerful image for me to have in mind when I need to cheer myself up.

So of course I came home and googled to find out more about his stutter, and sure enough I came across this passage from http://www.spin.com/articles/tough-questions-peter-murphy :

> Interviewer:I just noticed that you have a stammer. Have you struggled to overcome it?
> Peter: With a stammer, you always have to control it. But it’s very difficult,
>because once you look at it, it’s there. So you can’t really work on
>it. It’s fear-based. When I was a kid, I would be terrified to go on a
>bus to ask for a ticket. I could say the word, say it a thousand times,
>until the moment the woman says, “Yes, where are you going?” But if I
>didn’t stammer, I wouldn’t sing so well. When I sing, I can speak.

BTW this is my first time post, but I LOVE the phrase stutter rock star!

Hey Tom, thanks for the great comments and welcome to this site. So glad you checked in and took the time to share this.
Sounds like it was a great experience for you!
Funny, isn’t it, how we stutterers can spot another stutterer – we know the nuances, the signs, and of course the feelings.

A friend of mine called me a “stutterrockstar” a few years ago, so I adopted it as my twitter name (@stutterrockstar is where you can find me on Twitter) and when I started blogging, it seemed like a great website name to adopt as well.

I just interviewed a guy today who has a very noticeable stutter. He is a musician and teacher – he teaches band. I told him he rocks after we finished our conversation.

I hope you check in to this site again – listen to some of the podcast interviews!

Pam

Have people who used to be severe – but have, for some reason, come to the point where the majority of people don’t know that they stutter (or used to severely) – lost their ability to have a voice about stuttering merely because it is not so visible anymore? I agree that it is frustrating when people point to their childhood lisp or lack of ability to pronounce ‘R’s’ and claim that they know all about being an adult and stuttering; however, I think that peoples’ stories need to be legitimate whether they are currently overt or not.

Sometimes when I tell certain people that I stutter for the first time, they write it off because they do not actively see it 24/7. However, for me, growing up and entering adulthood as a severe stutterer has been the number one influence in who I am today and, by someone rejecting that fact, is kind of like rejecting who I am at heart and the journey that I have been on.

Just a few thoughts . . .

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