Sporting events are exceptionally significant in human culture. In every corner of the planet kids kick a ball around. While sports are ever present, we also have to navigate the stories that define what that play means. Competition, fair play, hard work, hierarchy, teamwork — we are steeped in the narratives that permeates sports stories. These stories invite participation, and they also exclude. It is worth considering what happens when the desire to play a sport doesn’t conform to the bodily requirements of that sport.
One punchline for these stories ends with Rudy Ruettiger, the pint-sized Notre Dame football player whose hard work eventually leads the coach to put him in the game. Another possible ending is for accommodation through the development of a new sport. Wheelchair rugby comes to mind.
Recent convert to wheelchair racing, Victoria Stagg Elliott wonders why more people don’t get involved in adaptive sports in an essay at The Rumpus.
What if more runners, when faced with having to hang up their shoes for whatever reason, switched to wheelchair racing rather than cycling or swimming or giving up physical activity completely?
Here’s what I think would happen:
So-called disabled athletes would have more opportunities to participate in able-bodied sports and vice-versa. We would all realize that we are more alike than different, and that playing alone really isn’t very much fun.
I like Elliot’s take on adaptive sports, and the encouragement for people to simply play. It seems like sports and play are worthwhile fundamental human desires — it is worth crafting a world where people who wanted to participate in any activity would get the chance.
It also takes a certain amount of work to change sports stories. With sports the concept of fairness can help to persuade some people to make sports inclusive, but the Title IX separate-but-equal is a predictable pressure release valve. It seems valuable to push forward on all intellectual fronts to bring forward inclusion. To support adaptive sports, to fund and celebrate sports communities who become more inclusive, and to engage in sporting play ourselves — regardless of our level of ability.
What a nice quote from a fascinating party monster/charming lout.
Was it hard to play in a wheelchair?
It was actually easy to play. I was on crutches during the day but I couldn’t stand with the mic, play keyboard and do my headbanging on the crutches. So the wheelchair became this amazing tool that let me spin, roll around and completely isolate my leg so I could keep all the energy into my playing and singing. I had so much fun at those shows because it was a different way to use my body. It was interesting to experience how it felt to be in a wheelchair. Some people were freaked out by it and didn’t want me to play. We did a TV show performance and when they saw I was in a wheelchair they just wanted me to cancel. I said: “We’ve been playing this way, if anything I can play better. And I think people will find it interesting and exciting.” They said: “No it doesn’t look good, there’s a reason why you don’t see people in wheelchairs performing on telly!” I was just baffled by that and then I realised, holy smoke, you really don’t see people in wheelchairs on television! Why the fuck is that? Afterwards the guy apologised, he said he was wrong, the show was amazing and thanks for doing it. I realised if you’re injured it’s not just getting around that changes, it’s the whole way you’re treated.
Pharoahe Monch’s new album We Are Renegades is excellent. Go buy it. If you’ve ever listened to Monch, then you know that he doesn’t fake his rhymes. As is visible above, the back cover of his most recent album is littered with asthma inhalers. Here is Pharoahe on the impact that his breathing struggles have had on his rhyming style.
“The asthma forced me to really go against the issue and push the envelope in terms of breath control and doing runs that I wouldn’t probably try if I didn’t have asthma,” he explained. “If I didn’t have asthma, I’d probably rhyme like the Hip Hop rock-the-spot [style]. But the fact that that shit is an element that I was fighting against, I was like, ‘Fuck that, let me make that battle, lyrically [speaking].'”
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