Friday, March 28, 2014

Well, She Started It!

Rico Roman, a paralympican in US sledge hockey uniform.

It pissed me off the moment I saw it. We were in a line up, in a grocery store, in upper New York State. I nudged Joe and pointed to it. All he saw was a rack of magazines so he turned to me and said, 'What?' I pointed again to a magazine, I don't remember which one, that had published a special issue about the Olympics. The text on the cover used the word 'heroes' more than once in reference to the athletes that had competed in Sochi. Again, after seeing which magazine I was pointing at, Joe looked at me questioningly. I said, "The paralympics aren't even over yet and the 'Olympic Heros' magazine is out." This shows exactly the kind of dismissiveness that athletes with disabilities get regarding their accomplishment and the prejudice of a public that doesn't give a shit about one set of athletes.

There was a woman, with a cart, in front of me, listening in to our conversation. I'm good with that, even though I wasn't talking loudly, I wasn't trying to hide my disdain and annoyance in the face of hard copy evidence of prejudice. She turned and joined the conversation. "The magazine is about the real Olympics, not the disabled one."

It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

I turned to her, all cold, and asked, " So do you support America's troops overseas?" She saw this as a ridiculous non sequitor and answered, "Of course, I do."

Then, without raising my voice, cause I don't think screaming or yelling your point makes it any clearer. I challenged her to think about the use of the word 'hero' for an athlete. They are talented and they are brave, but 'hero'? Wouldn't she agree that those people who risk their lives, who separate themselves from their families in order to protect their families, those people who every day know that that day could be their last - THEY are heroes. She still didn't see where I was going, but she said, annoyed now she entered this conversation, "Yes, of course our military men and women are everyday heroes."

"So do you realize how many of the paralympians, over in Russia right now representing their country, became disabled because of their injuries while serving as a member of America's troops overseas? Do you realize that these men and women were heroes before they got on skis, before they got on skates, before they got on the plane to fly over to represent America at the Paralympic games? So, now here you are, in a grocery store, saying that their efforts as athletes aren't equal to the efforts of 'real' athletes. You don't support your troops. You don't even care about them. For you support is a slogan, not a reality. If you did support your troops, you'd recognize that disability is a natural result of war and that prejudice against those with disabilities is an affront to the world that your soldiers fought for."

The only thing she could muster was "I do so support our troops."

I said to her back, "Then show it."

Publishing a magazine about Olympic 'heros' before the Paralympics is over is a deep affront to all people with disabilities. In my humble opinion, it is evidence of a deep, deep, prejudice against people with disabilities and demonstrates a dismissiveness that is ultimately incredibly dangerous to those of us who are members of the disability community.

Even more dangerous ...?

Our silence.


Anonymous said...

Why oh why did the term "labeling approach" came up in my head while reading your post?


Sharon said...

ALL Olympians are heroes. Disabled or non disabled. Olympians or Paralympians. The publisher of the magazine was horribly wrong in not including the Paralympians. The woman in the line was prejudiced, and probably does not recognize people with disabilities as people.
Is this an example of how society still views people with disabilities?? Yes. You are right Dave. The most dangerous aspect is our silence.


B. said...

I hope there were other people listening as well.

Anonymous said...

‘real olympics’. ‘disabled olympics’. so last centuary.
wkipedia on paraolympics: The present formal explanation for the name is that it derives from the Greek preposition παρά, pará ("beside" or "alongside") and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games. The Summer Games of 1988 held in Seoul was the first time the term "Paralympic" came into official use.

Anonymous said...

I wonder--would it be so hard to conduct both Olympics at the same time? Why not? There's so much overlap in the time, effort, energy, and resources needed to conduct both events.


Princeton Posse said...

Interesting post Dave, I have noticed that the word "hero" is taking on some interesting attributes that were not necessarily reflective of the image of a "hero".