Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Prissy' decree condemns U.S. stamps

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Washington -- Somewhere near Buffalo, N.Y., as you read this, 30 million U.S. postage stamps wait anxiously on death row, pacing their cell and gnawing on their perforations, soon to learn if they are going to be pardoned or if they are going to be pulped.

The guilty parties are panes of 15 "Just Move!" stamps that depict children engaged in various athletic activities, created to encourage young Americans -- as a U.S. Postal Service publication enthused when the issue was previewed last January -- to "Run! Jump! Leap! Spin! Climb!" There is a boy dribbling a basketball on one stamp, a girl skipping rope on another, and so on. But then they abruptly were expunged from the USPS calendar before they could be offered for sale.

The first-glance surmise was that, just before the stamps were to be issued, someone in the federal Ministry of Love -- the president's wife? -- noticed one of the cartoon kids was skateboarding sans kneepads, one was standing on his head without a helmet and another tyke was doing a cannonball into a refreshing blue pool.

Convicted of fun in the first degree.

"USPS to destroy press run of 2013 Just Move stamps," reported Linn's Stamp News. Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' Stamps Destroyed for Pic of Unsafe Headstand w/o Helmet, screamed a website called Frontpage Mag., blaming it all on the First Nanny.

"Have you ever even seen a helmet for doing headstands?" probed The New York Times.

A leading expert in the field echoed these complaints.

"I don't think there's any role for government in what kids have done for 2,000 years naturally," said the four-time World Cannonball and Belly-Flop Champion, when I reached him by phone near Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. "There isn't a kid in the whole world who's ever been near water who hasn't done a cannonball."

This was vintage Butts Giraud -- ex-B.C. Lion, ex-Winnipeg Blue Bomber, ex-pro-wrestler and B.C.'s reigning T-shirt tycoon. At 68, Butts's best cannonballing days may be behind him -- he hasn't tried one since he plunged off a friend's yacht into Desolation Sound, three summers back. But he still had no stomach for decrees from prissy Democrats.

"The way these stamps are displayed is not offensive to anybody," Giraud said when I emailed him a picture of the forbidden American adhesives. "People standing on their heads? These things are all pretty tame. I've blown myself up in midair doing cannonballs and belly flops from 40 feet in the air and never got hurt. Cannonballing is kind of a way of life for young kids of all ages."

This was true -- Butts indeed did immolate (and nearly incinerate) himself during one of those hilarious drop-and-flop competitions in Vancouver, about 30 years ago. Now he was living a less flamboyant life as the president of the Dog's Ear T-Shirt and Embroidery Co. in Nanaimo, while playing blues harmonica in saloons across the continent as a larger, balder, paler replica of the late, great Muddy Waters.

But the more we talked about the American Just Move! stamps and the encroachment of governments into our children's childhoods, the more the old lineman began to ponder the risks he and his peers had taken -- and had been forced to take -- and the toll the risks had taken on them.

"When I played football in the States in college, we were taught to tackle with our heads," Butts recalled. "In our day, if you got a little bit of sting in your head, probably you got a concussion, you sat on the bench for five minutes and went back in for the next play. Now they're taking all these precautions, but the precautions are justified because there are so many serious injuries."

While we were on the phone, I received an email from a source within the U.S. government assuring me Michelle Obama had no personal input whatsoever during the planning and the annulation of the Just Move! series, and the postal service "is continuing to develop plans regarding a fitness-themed stamp series." So the death row wait in Buffalo continued.

From Qualicum Beach, Butts Giraud was telling me about another old Lion named Pat Claridge who died in 2012 at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria after sailing slowly, sadly away into the mists of Alzheimer's disease.

"It was all because of head injuries," Giraud said. "I'm sure of that. Football and hockey and all these violent sports, we have to change the method of how we do things."

Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 A17

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