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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Olympics and Disability

If the popular press is to be believed the Olympic ratings are through the roof. NBC has the broadcast rights to the Olympics and are milking the event for everything it is worth. I dislike the coverage--it is all tape delayed and I can sense the athletic stampede for corporate sponsorship. This may sound like sour grapes but it not meant as such. This is what elite athletes do and cannot blame them. This is how a small fortune can be made.

A few people with a disability are competeing. I read about a blind archer that won a gold medal. No name was provided in most news accounts--just"blind archer". No gender, no age, no nationality. Think dehumanizing. Would such a headline or brief filler about a typical athlete exist? No way. I doubt I will ever read "bipedal gold medal winner".  The press has largely ignored disability issues and sports. But this will change when Oscar Pistorius runs. Pistorius is a sensation. He is a hyped athlete, perhaps the first such athlete with a disability to exist. He is the Blade Runner, the fastest man with no legs. A great tag line if there ever was one. I have read everything I can about Pistorius. I am not impressed. I groan when I hear him say he is not disabled. I groan not because of the statement but rather the missed opportunity. There are so many other ways he could talk about disability. zlike it or not he is asked all the time. I am sure he is weary of the subject. I refuse to be critical of him. He is not an academic theorist or disability rights advocate.  He is a world class athlete. He is a South African so his experience with disability is very different from what an American would experience. In short, cut him a lot of slack--he is an athlete first and foremost.

Today started what will likely be a number of articles about Pistorius. All mention his disability first. All mention his battle to compete against typical athletes. All wonder if it is fair for him to run--many imply he has an unfair advantage with his protheses. Demeaning comments abound. In the Wall Street Journal today. One athlete was quoted as saying "It takes a lot of courage and confidence to do what he is doing".  This is typical super cripple propaganda. There is no doubt as next week progresses Pistorius will become a big story. How it will be framed will be split into two categories. First, does he have an advantage because of his protheses? I doubt this debate will be grounded in scientific reality and opinions will be screamed at high decibel levels. Second, he will be portrayed as a super cripple--an inspiration to all other amputees. I am sure they will trot out images of him running next to little kids with no limbs as well. I am equally sure some veterans will be exploited and patriotic music in the background. And lost in all this is the most basic aspect of Pistorius life--he is just another athlete trying to win a gold medal.

In a world that does not exist I could imagine how Pistorius could be used. He could be a tease to lead NBC into coverage of the Paralympic games. Pistorius could be a color commentator and explain the rules of adaptive sports. The viewing audience would tune in nightly to see thrilling competition. It is too bad no one will see the Paralympics. It will not be broadcast in the United States. In about six months a special will appear on NBC condensing the games into 90 minutes of inspiring trash. Worse yet, it will be broadcast once at 3:30PM, perhaps in the Fall when every American interested in sports is watching professional football. If some TV executives were smart they would push to broadcast the Paralympics. The X Games prominently feature mono skier races to a receptive and enthusiastic audience. In other words it is a rating winner.  If given a chance, I suspect the Paralympic Games could be a real ratings winner. I just wish they were given a chance.