Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill is hoping his social media campaign will tackle American TV host Wendy Williams and convince her to apologize for insulting people with cleft palates.
Bighill, who was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, the same genetic condition his four-month-old son will have surgery for later this week, said at first he felt "disappointment" last Friday when he saw a video from last Tuesday's Wendy Williams Show of the host using her fingers to pull on one side of her upper lip, saying it's what actor Joaquin Phoenix has.
Bighill's mood soon changed.
"Then I was angry," he said Monday. "It was saddening. It was frustrating. It was promoting bullying.
"Kids are already bullied every day for not looking like other people. I couldn't let her just get away with it, because it's not OK."
This is @WendyWilliams making fun of the cleft community on her TV show. ��������— Adam Bighill (@Bighill44) January 10, 2020
Are you kidding me??? We all have a responsibility to #EndBullying
With her platform, like myself, we have a much higher responsibility when it comes to our actions. This is just terrible. pic.twitter.com/JrlS0RJs5D
So Bighill, who leads the defence that helped the Bombers win the Grey Cup in November, and who is on the board of Making Faces, a Toronto-based charity that helps improve the self-esteem of children with facial differences, took to Twitter.
He is now on Day 4 of his campaign to get "a @WendyWilliams apology to the cleft community".
Day 3— Adam Bighill (@Bighill44) January 12, 2020
We are still waiting for a @WendyWilliams apology to the cleft community.
Outside of that, seeing everyone come together on social media to rally around her comments and actions has been truly amazing.
It’s clear we are making progress towards being able to #endbullying pic.twitter.com/lIXUa5i1vs
Bighill said he's heard unofficially that the Williams show may be preparing a response, but that's all he knows.
The syndicated, hour-long talk and celebrity gossip show is taped in New York and is aired on Fox 9 in Minneapolis — available in the Winnipeg market — at noon Monday to Friday.
"I'm a grown man — I'm past bullying," Bighill said. "But there's so many who haven't got to that point. I'm standing up for everyone who doesn't have a voice."
The controversy began last week when Williams was discussing how Beyoncé didn't stand up when Joaquin Phoenix won the Golden Globe Jan. 5 for his starring role in Joker.
Williams then told the audience that Phoenix, who was nominated for an Oscar for the role Monday and was born with a microform cleft lip, has "one of those, what you you call it? Cleft lip, cleft pallet" before using her fingers to pull up her upper lip and saying "he's got this, he's got this. No, I find it to be very attractive."
Julia Cwir, a member of Craniofacial Families of Manitoba, and the mother of an eight-year-old son born with a cleft lip, said she couldn't believe what Williams said and did.
"It was a lot worse than I thought it would be," Cwir said. "She makes a point of specifically making fun of people being born with cleft... she is uninformed and uneducated and knows nothing about it."
Cwir said Williams should be a role model and not make fun of people with craniofacial differences.
"It's one thing when it's a kid saying it, but it's another when an adult encourages the stigma," she said.
"Some adults have had 60 surgeries for their cleft."
No one from Williams' show returned a call from the Free Press for comment Monday.
As for Bighill, he knows what his son has ahead of him in life and he'll be with him every step of the way.
"It will be years before you stop growing and have your final surgery," he said. "You grow up not knowing how you'll look like later.
"This is a passion of mine — I want to help this community and give help to others."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.