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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hard to Believe: Sports Illustrated, Teddy Kremer and Feel Good Stories

Last week I saw your typical feel good story on the news. Teddy Kremer, a 30 year old man with Down Syndrome served as honorary bat boy for the Cincinnatti Reds. The game was a blow out. the Reds won 11-1. What was of interest, the "heart warming" story, was Teddy Kremer's request. He asked Todd Frazier to hit a home run. In archetypical baseball lore dating back to Babe Ruth Frazier came through. He hit a bomb to deep center field. No big deal given the game was well out of hand. What took place when he crossed home plate became the story. Teddy Kremer was thrilled. I recall watching the highlights and am not afraid to admit I got teary eyed. Talk about joy and love for the game! Teddy Kremer expressed such raw emotion it brought back vivid memories from my own childhood when I lived and died with each and every NY Mets win or loss in 1969. Baseball with all its ups and downs, heart breaks and joy filled my life at a time when I was morbidly sick and hospitalized. Oh the look on the face of Kremer and Frazier. Even the prerequisite umpire's stony faced veneer cracked--he had a wide grin on his face as he watched Kramer. The crowd cheered louder for Teddy Kremer's reaction than it did for Frazier's home run. And this is exactly where I expected the story to end. A classic feel good moment in baseball. Numerous local television stations showed the video clip. See it for yourself:



I forgot about Teddy Kremer until yesterday when I read a great article by Paul Daugherty in Sports Illustrated entitled "Reds Batboy with Down Syndrome a Great Story, But it Shouldn't End". Link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20130423/teddy-kremer/ Daugherty acknowledges feel good stories are easy to write and an integral part of baseball lore. ESPN has taken interest in Kramer as has the Speaker of the House John Boehner. Kremer already had some familiarity with the Reds. He served as batboy in August 2012 (his parents won a silent auction at a fund raiser and paid $300). According to Daugherty, Kremer has been batboy twice. The publicity has been uniformly positive. Again, this is where 99% of stories end--especially in sport reporting. But not this time. Daugherty argues that "its time to do better. Kremer's story can't end here. Worse, it can't continue the same as now, with Kremer the 30 year old man making cameos racking Reds bats, whenever the sentiment strikes. The mascoting of  Teddy has to end before it stops being wonderful and becomes something far less. These stories have to become more nuanced as our society has become more attuned with the lives of our citizens with disabilities. There is a subtle bend in the road, where good and right run head on into patronizing and exploitive. That curve hasn't been reached. But its just up there in the near distance. The next time Kremer is at Great American Ball Park it should be as an employee of the team". 

When I read the above I almost fell out out of my wheelchair. I read that passage again and again. Sports Illustrated bemoaning feel good stories? Sports Illustrated calling for a more nuanced understanding of disability? I am stunned. Reds chief operating officer  Phil Castellini is quoted as stating Kramer is "incredibly capable. He could do all kinds of stuff. I could put him in customer service any where in the building and he'd continue to put smiles on people's faces". Teddy Kremer's mother notes that her son has worked a few part time jobs and employment with the Reds would be a huge boost to his self esteem. She also soberly notes he would need to learn how to use the mass transit system.

The above is a radical departure from your typical story about disability. I have been energized by the fact this story appeared in a staid publication such as Sports Illustrated. This is about as mainstream as one can get. Buzzed on too much tea this morning I started dreaming big. The Reds could hire Kramer and many other capable men and women who have Down Syndrome. They could foster a relationship with the Down Syndrome community and become not just an employer but powerful advocate for people with Down Syndrome. I can dream bigger! Major League Baseball could become the spearhead for a work program for people with a host of disabilities. MLB could encourage (require) all teams to hire people with a disability. One could even make the case that every team employ a certain percentage of people with a disability. This could be marketed as the next great social revolution in baseball history. The effort could be tied to Jackie Robinson's legacy as the first black man to break the color line. Label this jobs program something catchy like "42's Legacy" and build the infrastructure for a jobs program. Just think of the exposure. Tens of millions of people who attend baseball games would encounter people with disabilities who are employed. This could truly revolutionize people's perception of disability. If Americans understand anything it is baseball and work. Wow, I am dreaming big today!

9 comments:

Shannon said...

Thanks for sharing the SI article. I rarely read SI so I probably would not have seen it. I read it (and the reader's comments below it - some of the usual patronizing stuff there). I'm quite (pleasantly) surprised by the article too. It would be great if he got a job.

william Peace said...

Shannon, Some of the comments following the article were dreadful. I usually regret reading comments and need to get in the habit of not reading them. Seems to me people get off hurling insults at one another rather than commenting on facts in a given article.

Taradharma said...

dream big! I think your ideas are fantastic. The more exposure people have to people with disabilities, the more society with integrate them into life.

Middle Child said...

we don't have or know much about baseball down under down here its Rugby League or AFL league.Pretty amazing stuff what they voiced...hope they follow though that the main thing

william Peace said...

Taradharma, The only problem with dreaming big in this case is that the odds my ideas will ever be implemented are remote at best. Agree 100% r.e. exposure.
Middlechild, Sports in my estimation can inspire great social change. Rugby is one tough sport. Was once in a motel and at breakfast a team of female rugby were getting breakfast. Biggest and strongest women I ever saw.

Middle Child said...

And they don't wear helmets either thats how tough they are - never seen a female player yet Bill I think you might be pulling my leg on that...

william Peace said...

Middlechild, No pulling your leg. These women were imposing. All were close to 6 ft. tall. It was in MA were rugby is common.

Second Summit said...

Love the Sports Illustrated story - thanks for sharing it. But what brought a tear to my eye was your Big Dream.

In our local grocery store there are a couple of baggers and shelf-stockers who are people with cognitive disabilities - and they are awesome, friendly, helpful, and competent.

I agree that seeing a lot of people with disabilities employed routinely would go a long way toward 'normalizing' disability and reducing barriers.

Dream Big, and PUBLICIZE the Dreaming!

william Peace said...

Second Summit, There is no reason most people with physical and cognitive disabilites cannot work in one form or another. We are lacking the social will to put employment plans into action