Blake Loates popped open a bottle of Vitamin Water recently and found an extremely upsetting message under the cap: “You retard.” The words were especially hurtful as Blake’s younger sister, Fiona, has cerebral palsy and significant cognitive delays. She sent a photo of the cap to her father, who was justifiably outraged and sent off a letter to the Coca-Cola company, which owns Vitamin Water. Here’s an excerpt:
“Fiona has had a tougher time of it. She has had 22 surgeries. She has Cerebral Palsy and still gets fed with a feeding tube. She is cognitively delayed. Fifty years ago they might have called her retarded. But we know better now, don’t we? … Imagine my surprise when I got this photo from my oldest daughter, Blake. You see, the ‘R’ word is considered a swear word in out family. We don’t use it. We don’t tolerate others using it around us. We ARE over-sensitive but you would be too if you had Fiona for a daughter!”
He included a photo of Fiona and the words, “Can you imagine if SHE had opened this bottle???”
Ready for the craziest part of this story? According to Coca-Cola, the phrase “You Retard” wasn’t a prank or a typo. It was printed on the cap on purpose.
Vitamin Water had been running a contest in Canada (where Blake lives). As part of the contest, each bottle cap was printed with an English word and a French word. Blake’s bottle just happened to pair “you” with “retard,” which in French means “late.”
The company is apparently mortified by the “oversight” that allowed the two words to form such an offensive phrase. The contest has been canceled and all remaining bottle caps are being destroyed. Coca-Cola has issued a formal apology to the Loates family.
The upside to this unbelievable situation is that the powerful letter Blake’s father wrote is now going viral on Facebook, and perhaps his testament of love for his daughter can help spread the message about how painful certain words can be, whether they’re printed on a bottle cap, muttered under your breath, or used as a joke. So thanks, Vitamin Water, for the unlikely learning moment.