Sports and Disabilities: Especially Special

Handicapped Sign

In the world of sports, it is widely accepted that ability is everything. Practice, training, competition, and all other things relating to sports are done in order to increase ability. However, in the age of “E for Effort” and “Everyone Deserves a Medal”, it seems as though the reward for outstanding ability is in jeopardy. After reading Mika LaVaque-Manty’s article entitled “Being a Girl and Other Disabilities”, many questions began to arise in my mind. What constitutes a disability? Which should rules of a game be changed for? What happens to those without special accommodations? Ignoring the issue is ignorant, and challenging it is often seen as insensitive. However, failing to answer these essential questions will only allow for more ambiguity to arise, so the only way to address the issue is by examining it in depth.

In LaVaque-Manty’s article, he talks about the suing of the New York City Marathon due to alleged incompetencies in allowing wheelchair-bound racers to compete without hindrance. This example forced me think back to my sophomore year track season. At a meet in Denver, a girl in a wheelchair competed in the 1600 meter run. She came in last-place, but nevertheless received an enormous cheer. To the shock of many, she came back onto the track for the 3200 meter run, debatably the most grueling event in track and field. Everyone expected the same results as the first race, but she shocked us all. She won the race with an outstanding time and qualified for the state meet. This moment proved to me, and everyone else in the stadium, that disabilities are not the end of the road in sports. Some people are capable of achieving greatness regardless of the circumstances.

New York City Marathom

New York City Marathon

On the other hand, some people use what they see as a disability to allow themselves to experience greatness without having to go through the same struggle that others do. For example, LaVaque-Manty’s article tells of the Clydesdale division in running events. This is a special group created in an attempt to allow overweight runners to compete directly against only those in their division. Whether this group should exist or not is a matter of opinion, but regardless, it does create one key flaw in the system.

While the wheelchair-bound participants sued the NYCM for treatment that was unequal to that of other runners, such as stopping them and other differences, those in the Clydesdale divisions show that they want to be treated differently than the average runner. Those in wheelchairs strive for equality, those with weight issues fight for unique treatment. Clearly, a conflict in desires regarding preferred methods of dealing with disabilities exists. LaVaque-Manty adresses some of this problem in his article, but I wish to expand on it and offer my view on the function of it. Perhaps the nature of the disability itself is what causes for how people wish to be treated. Those who had to deal with wheelchairs during their life want a sphere in which they are considered normal. They wish to be treated as equal to able-bodied athletes, something they have not experienced. Those with weight problems, who have not been able to succeed in athletics due to their disability, want to stand out for once. This problem is what brings me to the final part of this post.


     If everyone who cannot succeed to due one reason or another has the rules of a game altered for them, what happens to those with no disability? Their talent will probably not be as outstanding since they will be only one of many winners. There will be no Peyton Mannings, no Lebron James, no Usain Bolts. So no matter how insensitive it may seem, please keep everyone on the same playing field. Don’t slow anyone down because they are in a wheelchair, but don’t let anyone have an advantage due to other disabilities. The discrepancy in talent is what keeps the games we play pure. This widespread uneven distribution of talent is what allows amateurism and professionalism to exist. As LaVaque-Manty quotes in his article, “If everyone is special, nobody is”.


One comment

  1. mkweihs · October 21, 2014

    I read your article with great interest. It points out a very important issue in depth and raises good question which let me think further about the topic. Furthermore, I really liked your personal example with the girl in the wheelchair which illustrates in an impressive way that having a disability mustn’t be set equal to the absence of ability. However, I am not sure whether I agree with your conclusion. I agree with your point that if the rules of games a transformed to the needs of every disability or other special needs of the players, that this would mean a degradation of ability and success. But I would not go that far enough to say that you should “keep every person on the same playing field”. In boxing for example (I think it also occurs in our reading) there also exist different weight categories which does not lead to the lesser acknowledgement of the achievement in one category but increases fairness, in my opinion. The same argument might be transferred to people with disabilites as well, as long as the distinction remains not to differentiated.


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