Re-defining “Athlete”

By Jake Williamson, columnist

Quadriplegic athletes are some of the most competitive athletes in the world, yet most people do not know much about them. Is this fair?

Wheelchair rugby is a full contact sport.
Creative Commons license, by SA 2.5

“Murderball,” or wheelchair rugby, is one of the most popular quadriplegic sports in the world. It is dangerous, aggressive and physical. With all of this said, how is it that these athletes aren’t celebrated? Why are they treated differently when they are achieving just as much as any other athlete, which is to say “able” athletes?

A deeper question lurks beneath the surface: Why should the disabled need to prove themselves to an able-ist society in the first place?

The athleticism of these athletes is amazing. Because of their disability, either congenital or the result of accident or circumstance, Murderballers must work even harder to achieve their goals than do able-ist athletes, generally speaking.

Murderballers deserve every opportunity to compete at a high level because paraplegic and quadriplegic athletes can accomplish every bit as much as any other athlete.

And society should pay attention, because wheelchair rugby, as all disabled sports, is communicative act. By competing, and by doing so at such a high level, simply playing their sport communicates to society at large that perhaps able-ist assumptions about what athletic achievement and accomplishment look like are out-moded, even discriminatory.

Being seen is to be acknowledged, recognized, celebrated and valorized.

Removing stereotypes and replacing them with an appreciation for the many varied expressions of athletic achievement can come with more exposure to and awareness of Murderball and, more generally, of disabled sports, which are also called parasports or adaptive sports.

In short, athletes with disability deserve the same opportunities as any other athlete. Creating opportunities such as television air time, media coverage and sponsorships could be a start, taking this powerful communicative act to mass audiences.

As a whole, we still have a long way to go to achieve this goal.

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