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.