Dwarf Tossing: The Latest in Florida State Politics

Things may soon get a lot livelier in Florida bars.  Patrons tired of throwing back drinks and tossing darts may soon have another activity in which to engage if Florida State Representative Ritch Workman has his way.  This week he introduced a bill that would permit dwarf tossing in Florida bars.

For those not in the know, dwarf tossing involves, as the name suggests, competitively tossing a “little person” as far as possible.  In one variation, a little person is picked up by a special back harness and heaved. The contestant throwing the little person the farthest wins the contest.

The Act of Dwarf Tossing

In another variation, a little person is wrapped in a Velcro costume and thrown by contestants against a Velcro wall.  The contestant who gets the little person to stick at the highest point on the wall is the winner.

While such activities might be amusing for bar flies, you’d think it would be a sticky situation for a politician in the age of political correctness.

But those aren’t the only dwarf-related sports.  A cousin of dwarf tossing is dwarf bowling, which involves strapping a little person to a skateboard-like object and rolling him toward pins.  Another distant relative is “dwarf curling,” where little people are pushed across ice toward a targeted area.

Dwarf-related sports reportedly originated in Australia, spread to Europe in the mid 1980s, and then migrated to the United States, where they gained popularity in Chicago, New York, and Florida.  Most commonly, these activities were featured in bars—the types of places, no doubt, where Randy Newman’s “Short People” got a lot of play on the jukebox.  It’s not everywhere that you can employ a little person to become a human projectile.

But such activities were quite common in the late 1980s, when dwarf-related sports were at the height of their popularity.  Traveling tours were arranged.  Semi-official records were kept (record toss: 16 feet). The fad, however, was short lived.

For one, the sport raised safety concerns.  For another, many people, especially little people, believed these activities were demeaning, and they lobbied (but, thankfully, didn’t lob) legislators to end the practice.  A Committee to Ban Dwarf Tossing was created.  The Little People of America, an interest group with 6,000 members advocating for people of small stature, took a stand against it, calling it “deplorable” and “inhumane.”  It was only a matter of time before state legislatures gave the sport short shrift.

In 1989, Florida banned the practice, followed soon thereafter by New Jersey, Illinois, and Michigan.  New York banned it in 1990, with Governor Mario Cuomo ending the practice with the curiously unemphatic comment, “This disturbs me, I don’t know why.”

Canada also banned the sport, as did Portugal and France.  In France, the decision was appealed all the way to the United Nations, which upheld the ban on the grounds of “human decency.”

But the most extensive battles over dwarf tossing have come in Florida.  In 2002, for example, “Dave the Dwarf” sued the State of Florida, arguing that the ban against Dwarf Tossing denied him employment opportunities.  The case, however, was tossed out.

But now, Representative Workman has taken up the cause, framing the matter in loftier terms, as matters of individual freedom and employment opportunities.  “All that it does is prevent some dwarfs from getting jobs they would be happy to get,” the Florida Representative remarked.

Workman did note that he is not personally in favor of the practice, which he called “ridiculous.”  He simply doesn’t think the government should tell people which jobs they can take.

Interestingly, Workman’s bill to permit dwarf tossing was introduced during the first week of “Dwarfism Awareness Month,” which is sponsored by the Little People of America to raise “awareness about the lives of people with dwarfism.”  Workman called the timing a coincidence, noting, “it certainly wasn’t filed on purpose for that.”

Workman, as it turns out, might not be a giant in the field of timing.  On his campaign website, for example, he promises to speak to Floridians “about the issues important to you and your families,” a dubious claim in light of his latest sponsored bill.

On the other hand, there’s still a year before the next election.  Perhaps he can shift his campaign slogan to: “Workman—he’s for the little people.”

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