WHALEYVILLE – The Oasis Bar ‘N’ Grill in Whaleyville still plans to host a “Midget Paintball Manhunt” despite an online petition and backlash from those calling for it to be cancelled.
Last year, Oasis owner Bob Riccio cancelled and apologized for similar events featuring little people and the use of the word “midget” during an annual, unaffiliated bike week celebration after receiving criticism and backlash from community members and the Little People of America (LPA) Ches-Del-Bays Chapter.
Lizzy MacDonald, a Delaware resident and Ches-Del-Bays Chapter president, said she started a petition to permanently stop the events from happening at the Oasis after hearing of its return this year. As of Tuesday, the petition has received more than 500 signatures.
“Normally when you apologize, you mean it,” she said. “If he was sincere, he wouldn’t have it again.”
In addition to the use of the M-word, MacDonald argues the advertised paintball event mocks little people and can be dangerous for their health, as many have had surgeries.
Several community members and little people have also expressed their offense to the event on the business’s Facebook page and called for its removal from marketing materials and for the event to be outright canceled.
Local disabled-rights activist and former attorney Ron Pagano, who is also a little person, supports the event’s removal.
“This issue is not one involving ‘political correctness,’ as some people have said; it is one of respect for people who may look different, but are just the same as anyone else,” he wrote.
Pagano debated those who argue that the entertainers chose the term “midget”.
“If that is true, it only means that their self-identification is because that is what the public’s perception is, and essentially, these little people are entertainers, trying to market themselves,” he said. “The same thing went on for a few years, back in the ’80s, with ‘dwarf tossing’ competitions, which had strong athlete-types, picking up and actually throwing little people as far as they could. I understand that some little people have no other way of making money, however, this was a disgusting exhibition that affected all little people and their friends and family.”
Pagano added that he disapproved of Riccio’s actions.
“Bobby Riccio, the owner of Oasis, should be ashamed,” he wrote. “He is a former Salisbury cop, who should show more respect for people. He obviously knows how we feel about this issue; he has chosen to ignore our requests to cancel this event.”
For his part, Riccio said the entertainers are the ones who chose to perform.
“The reason they do it is it’s their livelihood,” he said. “They are able, they are agile and they consider themselves entertainers. They want to do it.”
Riccio argues his venue has hosted the entertainers in years past, but never received complaints until the celebration featured political events last year.
“Up until last year, there was no issue,” he said. “You didn’t hear anything about it until we started doing political things.”
Though many little people and community members were opposed to the event, Riccio said others, including the entertainers, support it. In fact, they depend on it for their livelihoods.
San Diego resident Leif Manson will be making his first performance at Oasis this weekend in the paintball event. Manson, 33, appeared on the CBS network’s Survivor in 2012.
“It’s going to be a fun experience,” said Manson. “It’s a job and it’s one I enjoy. I love performing at these types of events. I was born with this and we all have to deal with the cards we’ve been given. I love these cards. I’m super happy and thankful I have the ability to perform like this and not be like every other average person who has to work a 9-5 job.”
While he supports and is thankful for the efforts of the LPA, Manson said in this case he feels the organized paintball activities are all in good fun.
“I’ve done micro wrestling before in the past and that can be very dangerous for us,” he said. “Paintball is not nearly as bad as that. I’m just running around with protection and armor on. It’s like I’m playing paintball on any other day with anyone else. I’m running around for fun. It’s what I love to do. I love getting people to laugh, have fun and make jokes. The whole thing is all in good fun. Everyone has their own opinions but this whole world is just so ‘pc’ now someone is going to be offended no matter what. It’s impossible to not offend anyone anymore, no matter what you do.”
Riccio ultimately said the paintball event will not be cancelled this year.
“It’s really sad, but I’m not going to be bullied around or strong-armed by these folks anymore,” he said. “To me it’s a nonissue. It will continue to go on from here on out.”