(Disabled) Sports

Skimming through my twitter feed, as I do before bed most evenings, I was a little disheartened to discover the following story from the local Metro Newspaper’s twitter feed, entitled: “Canada advances to World (Sledge) Hockey final.”

Why the brackets? I’m guessing it is supposed to be a joke, although I’m not exactly sure why it would be funny. At best, the individual controlling the Metro twitter feed1 felt that perhaps more people would read the story this way because the deployment of brackets helps to separate it from other tweets about “Canada” and “hockey,” of which there are many. But at the same time this delineation is exactly what makes this tweet so problematic — we still feel the need to segregate the achievement of Paralympic athletes from those of presumptively “real” athletes; athletes who aren’t disabled at all, but rather, are the pinnacle of human physical achievement. Coverage of disabled sports is often wrapped in this sort of “gold star for effort” coverage, where the subconscious objective of the article is more to celebrate an individual being an athlete despite being disabled rather than merely celebrating athletic achievement. Of course, sports journalism has always had its narratives, perhaps none more overwrought than the underdog triumph fable, but the division of “real” sports and “disabled” sports is a relatively new trope caused by sports media realizing they could no longer ignore Paralympic/Special Olympic sport (largely because of the advocacy of my two favourite Joshs–Josh Vander Vies and Josh Cassidy 2 ) while at the same time not knowing exactly how to cover these stories. After all, if it’s about disability than it’s gotta be different. Sports journalism isn’t the only culprit here, as there is always the desire to temper achievements with the addendum of disability: Stephen Hawking isn’t a scientist…he’s a disabled Scientist!

Ultimately, how we cover disabled sports, specifically this seemingly innocent tweet by the London Metro team, helps to elucidate the oft non-apparent fault lines in our acceptance of disability. We talk so much about acceptance and inclusion in Canada, yet even in covering a story we can all understand and empathize with (athletic achievement) we still must keep a healthy distance (pun intended) between “us” and “them.” Only once we are ready to grant disability access into the realm of “normal,” understanding that people truly do come in all shapes and sizes, will we finally be able to talk about sledge hockey without the addendum.

  1. Note: I’ve been contacted by the local Metro and it was, in fact, not done locally but was tweeted by someone at the national office. The headline was apparently taken from the article pushed out on the wire by the Canadian Press, also picked up by Sportsnet here sans brackets.
  2. Although note that both of these fine gentleman brand themselves on their websites with terms like “motivators” and “leader,” unlike most mainstream athletes who wrap themselves in more traditional terms around athletic performance. I’d argue here that the Joshs feel the pressure to be more than just an athlete…they must also be inspirations