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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sports Imagery: A Damaging Article

I follow two sports closely--hockey and baseball. I love hockey and have a nostalgic interest in baseball. For me, money has ruined baseball. The players make so much money I find it offensive. I also object to the cost of attending a baseball game. Last year I went to Citifield where the NY Mets play--it cost me $200 to walk through the gate. I did not have great seats, just good seats. Sure I had fun but come on. $200 to see a ball game.

Baseball has history and a connection to American culture that is unique. To understand baseball one must understand Americans. The sport reflects our culture. Given this I find all sorts of meaning in baseball writing. I thus read far more about baseball than I ever watch. Yesterday I was reading about a San Diego player I had never heard of, David Newhan. Few people have heard of him because he is a journeyman, one of the many faceless ball players that populate the game. So why am I writing about this man? There was an article in Yahoo Sports The Post Game--"Old Ball Player, New Soul". Apparently Newhan broke his neck in a surfing accident. He was not paralyzed but came very close to being a high level quad. This is a good hook for any article but especially about an unknown baseball player. What shocked me however was the introduction to the article. It was gripping in all the wrong ways. Judge for yourself. Here is the opening:

"It was a simple act. David Newhan held open a restaurant door for a person in a wheelchair. And yet he was overcome by emotion. Gratitude gave way to longing, longing gave way to resolve, resolve circled back to gratitude, and then he wanted nothing more than to find the nearest ballfield, crush a fastball and dash around the bases.
As the wheelchair rolled past, Newhan silently thanked God for his own miraculous luck."

Let me see: I can open my own door thank you very much. I am also a human being. I am not "the wheelchair" that rolled past. How dehumanizing. Here is the blunt message: using a wheelchair is horrible, a tragedy. You do not see a human using a wheelchair you only see the wheelchair, the symbol of all that can go wrong. What are we expected to feel? Why pity of course. Pity the poor bastard that is confined to a wheelchair. This sort of dehumanization makes me furious. How can I ever expect to be treated equally when such destructive sentiments are expressed. Here is what I thought could have been written instead. The player in question takes an interest in disability rights and advocates for people who were not so lucky to avoid a paralyzing injury. This man in his spare time and from his privileged position helps people with disabilities attend or participate in adaptive baseball. Now that article would be worth reading and send a good message. But we rarely if ever see such an article. Charity sells papers. Tugging at people's heart strings gets people to read. Who wants to write about civil rights of people with disabilities. No major newspaper I ever read does this. This void can be overcome but we need people with disabilities to be writers, editors, or employed in some way throughout each section of American society. Without this I do not see an end to the dehumanized status of people with a disability in American society. Not a happy sentiment for sure but accurate.


Feisty Kitten said...

I've given up on the media EVER portraying the disabled community in any accurate sort of light, especially since disabled persons are JUST as diverse in our ideas and viewpoints as able bodied people. We are far from united. I see this all the time when I post on forums and talk to other people who even have my same condition. Yet they treat us all like faceless, nameless, same entities. We are not. We are unique, individuals. While I was on crutches, it was nearly impossible to open any of the heavier doors I encountered. These doors usually require me to brace my feet and push with my back in the first place. I also have massive problems with my wrists, shoulders, and elbows, though, so something like a heavy door is unmanageable to me, especially when I'm using an aid. Several people walked past me, and any attempt to get their attention failed. Finally, a girl stopped and I asked her to open the door. She actually said, "Are you gonna get all offended if I do?" This frustrates me, because I know plenty of the jaded, bitter, and rude types of disabled, who ruin it for the next person (not speaking of you, here, but those people who if you politely offer to hold a door snap at you and start ranting, THOSE types). I've seen it done. My mother always taught me that it was polite to hold the door for ANYONE. It didn't matter how old they were or what condition. I always find myself holding doors for families, old couples, people with canes or walkers, whatever. It doesn't matter. I do not, however, go out of my way to single out people to hold the door for, because it shouldn't matter. And as I find myself the one unable to manage the stupid things, it frustrates me how unwilling people are to help out.

On the other hand, too, I'm sick of people asking me if I'm an advocate for my disease. Well, no. I'm all for raising awareness, but I'm not parading around, holding fundraisers for a cure, and they don't seem to understand why. Its specifically the media I blame, their saturated with "feel good" healing stories and bullshit make everyone think that we're all the same. Just downtrodden little folk with giant hope filled eyes working for a cure! Bah. Don't make me sick...

Becs said...

I'm always surprised at the mawkishness of these NY Times stories. I expect better of them, not the NY Post, or some small town cable station.

This is what's supposed to be a 'feel good' story. Ha.

Anonymous said...

I think two words perfectly describe this article, but they're not "feel good", they're "catbox liner"!
My grandfather taught me to read using the NY Times, and I used to respect it. How the mighty have fallen. This article makes People magazine's latest interview with Charlie Sheen look like responsible journalism.
I think, and this is just my opinion, take it with a grain of salt, preferably around a large margarita, if this baseball player is so happy about not being paralyzed, why doesn't he do something useful with the ridiculous amount of money & influence he has as a professional athlete, like help make the stadium where he plays accessible to people with disabilities? If he has a favorite restaurant, why doesn't he tell them to make sure that they're fully ADA compliant? Imagine the headlines if a famous baseball player refused to eat at a fashionable restaurant because it wasn't ADA compliant. What if his whole team refused to eat there? What if Major League Baseball refused to eat there? The press, especially the scandal sheets, would have a field day. The restaurant would comply in record time because of all the bad press, and other similar restaurants would become compliant as well, so that they wouldn't be caught with their proverbial pants down. Clearly, this is what that guy should do, not just hold open a door while stroking his own ego in a revoltingly self-congratulatory fashion.