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Saturday, November 8, 2008

NYT Provides Adaptive Sport Stereotype

The media and the New York Times has provided a perfect example of how to not cover adaptive sports and the Paralympics. Placed under the heading "More Sports" Richard Sandomir has written "Long Overdue, Telecast Isn't Short on Emotion", a review of the NBC documentary about the Beijing Paralympics.

This is how Sandomir started his review: "As I write this, I have finished crying inside my cubicle after watching NBC's documentary about the Paralympics in Beijing. It is a 90-minute, continuous "oh my" journey with amputee sprinters and swimmers, wheelchair basketball players, a paralyzed shot-putter, a sailor with Lou Gehrig's disease..." As I noted yesterday, what always comes first when describing an adaptive athlete is not the person but the disability. While I will acknowledge Olympic coverage always focuses on individual athletes and past struggles, the point of such stories is to highlight an athletic accomplishment. There is no such focus when the media covers adaptive athletes. In fact Sandomir wrote that one athlete "devastated by a brain tumor" was "not competitive in the race that was shown, but that was not the point". Hugh? Winning was not the point? When I read this I was stunned. Would any athlete that competed in the Olympics be characterized in this way, where "winning is not the point". I was under the impression that any athlete that competes in the Olympics or Paralympics is a world class athlete driven to win. Given the sacrifices involved in training, winning must present an overwhelming drive. Word class athletes compete to win, to be the best, and defeat other world class athletes. It is the ultimate success in a given sport. But after reading Sandomir's article, one could easily conclude this is not the case. For Paralympians winning is not the point!

Among other poorly chosen lines include the following:

Quoting the producer "Every race, every event has some incredible story of inspiration".

"Not to denigrate the best of them, but Paralympians really have life stories to stir the soul".

The producer "would return home. usually teary, after editing footage. My wife thought I was going hormonal on her".

"A paralyzed veteran of the war in Iraq, who found new purpose in the shot-put. He cannot spin on strong legs".

NBC should have shown the Paralympic games live. Even now they are only showing highlights of the games on Universal Sports from Monday through next Saturday. For those that are able to watch I am hope you see athletes competing to win not inspire. I hope viewers will acknowledge the athletic prowess involved not a physical deficit. When this happens viewers will see an intense athletic competition that is gripping.

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