Dwarf Toss Victim Gets Mention at Golden Globes

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Peter Dinklage, who won a best supporting actor at the Golden Globes Awards for his role as Tyrion Lannister in the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones, ended his acceptance speech with an unusual acknowledgement.

ABCNews.com reported that Dinklage thanked "the usual folks — his wife, mom, newborn daughter" and then he mysteriously added to that list — “a gentleman in England I’m thinking about, Martin Henderson.’

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"Rather than elaborate, he implored the viewing audience to ‘Google him.’ Within minutes, Martin Henderson was a trending topic on Twitter, as people learned about the British dwarf and the vicious attack on him," ABCNEWS.com reported.

Henderson was "an aspiring actor who appeared as a goblin in two of the Harry Potter films," according to ABCNEWS.com. "Henderson was left badly injured after a drunken stranger picked him up and threw him to the ground outside a pub in England last October. After suffering tissue damage to his back, he has been unable to walk properly since.

Henderson, 37, told British newspaper The Telegraph that his assailant may have gotten the idea from Mike Tindall, a member of England’s Rugby World Cup team had been disciplined, along with some teammates, for attending a dwarf tossing contest at a bar in New Zealand.

I think until someone steps out and says ‘this is not acceptable,’ all dwarfs are under threat,' he told the newspaper.'”

So what is dwarf tossing, and is it a serious threat?

Dwarf tossing is a competition and form of entertainment most often found in taverns and nightclubs. The object, as the name implies, is to throw a dwarf as far as possible; whoever throws the dwarf the farthest wins. The little people who participate wear protective knee and elbow padding, as well as a helmet to prevent injury. They also wear a harness and handle so the tosser can get a good grip, and are usually tossed onto a pile of mattresses, pillows, or cardboard boxes. Dwarfs who engage in the competitions earn up to $2,000 per night.

A History of Dwarf Tossing

Dwarf tossing originated in Australia, where the record is said to be around 30 feet. The events were popular in Great Britain and America as well, especially in the 1980s.

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Efforts have been made for decades to ban the events. In 1985, an Italian deputy urged the European Union to enact a ban on dwarf tossing after receiving complaints that event organizers in Australia had been recruiting European dwarfs for an international dwarf tossing competition. The following year an organization calling itself the Union of Small People organized a protest against a dwarf-tossing championship held in West Germany. In 1992, a court in Versailles overturned a ban on such events in France, allowing 24-year-old dwarf Manuel Wackenheim to return to his employment as a tossed dwarf in a nightclub. The French government, though finding the events “an intolerable assault on human dignity,” agreed with Wackenheim that the ban denied him and other dwarfs the freedom to choose that employment.

The legislative assembly of Ontario, Canada, proposed a bill in 2003 which would ban dwarf tossing in that province and make it an offense to organize a dwarf tossing event or engage in dwarf tossing, with a penalty of up to $5,000 (Canadian dollars) and/or six months in jail. The bill did not become law. As of 2001, only Florida and New York had outlawed dwarf tossing, though a Florida radio station disc jockey named David Flood (aka Dave the Dwarf) sued to overturn that state’s laws banning dwarf tossing, claiming that the law illegally discriminates against people with a specific spectrum of dwarfism disorders.

Is Dwarf Tossing to Blame for Henderson's Attack?

Henderson has demanded an apology — not from the man who assaulted him, but from the English rugby players who he blames for having inspired the attack on him. Yet there’s no clear link between the savage assault on him and dwarf tossing competitions. Dwarf tossing is done with the cooperation and consent of all participants. It’s no different than a sport like boxing, football, or rubgy: what one person does to another in the context of the game is legal, permissible, and appropriate, but in everyday life those same actions may be crimes.

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The motive for the attack on Henderson is unclear, but there’s no reason to assume that it had anything to do with, or was inspired by, a dwarf-tossing event that happened a month earlier in New Zealand. It’s possible, though it seems likely that a violent drunk might have done the same to a child, or even a short man or woman. Henderson’s attacker did not toss or throw the dwarf any distance but instead picked him up and (according to Henderson and contrary to the ABC News report quoted above) dropped him on the ground at his feet. It was a vicious and cowardly attack on a smaller person, but not necessarily a copycat crime based on something he heard someone else did.

One can certainly challenge dwarf tossing as exploitative and degrading, but there’s no evidence that the practice inspired the attack on Mr. Henderson, nor poses a threat to other little people.