Friday, January 29, 2016

Good Sportsmanship and Disability

KidsHealth defines Good Sportsmanship as when “teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials treat each other with respect.” They further go on to discuss that “the best coaches and parents encourage their kids to play fair, to have fun, and to concentrate on helping the team...”[emphasis added]. 

These bullet points break it down rather concisely:

Sportsmanship is defined as:
  • playing fair
  • following the rules of the game
  • respecting the judgment of referees and officials
  • treating opponents with respect
Rules. Respect. Fairness. None of these terms will probably seem foreign as you contemplate good sporting behavior.

But let's delve in deeper to the words respect and fairness.

Respect is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to regard (someone or something) as being worthy of admiration because of good qualities.” In the case of respect in a sporting event, one might relate this to the athlete's dedication, determination and ability.

Fairness is defined as “marked by impartiality and honesty: free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.” This is a bit more complicated, but infers that one will not cheat nor will they exhibit behavior that will reflect poorly on other players or acquire some sort of special treatment for themselves. They will also not purposely behave in a way that shows they favor particular players and so forth.

Enter what this post is really about. This week, a viral news segment hit the mass media stating “Good Sportsmanship is not Dead.” It seems an undefeated high school wrestler in Norton, Mass. volunteered to wrestle an opposing team's player who happens to have an intellectual disability. According to the news, the undefeated captain let the disabled student win and is now an example for Good Sportsmanship everywhere.

I won't speculate that this wrestler did not actually let the his opponent win and that the wrestler with a disability actually won fair and square. After all, an intellectual disability does not necessarily affect strength. Oh wait. Too, late. But that is not really what this is about… This is about the definition of Sportsmanship. Did this wrestling jock actually perform good sportsmanship? Let's see.

Rules: Did the student follow the rules? One can only speculate that he did else one would hope that the referee would have made a call. 

RespectDid the student respect his opponent? No. It is quite obvious that the undefeated captain did not respect abilities or even consider the disabled wrestler might be capable. In fact, he disrespected him so much that believed that he had to throw the match in order for his opponent to feel good about himself. 

Fairness: Did he cheat? Perhaps. It depends on whether one considers throwing a match as cheating behavior. Did he exhibit behavior that reflected poorly on others? Yes. He publicly declared that he threw the match on purpose propagating the stereotype of disabled people as incapable and worthless. Did he exhibit behavior that would get him some sort of special treatment? Absolutely! Let us not forget, this student supposedly volunteered to wrestle the disabled student. This was calculated. Now he has become a viral media sensation overnight. One can imagine this looks good for his college applications. If nothing more, he gets to gloat in his moment of infamy.

So is it good sportsmanship to let a disabled person win because you feel sorry for them? Is it good to presume they are incompetent and treat them as such? Is it inspiring to read stories about typical able-bodied people feeling they are superior to those with disabilities? No. In fact, these stories though on the surface may seem inspiring to the average person, they are harmful to people with disabilities. They help spread the idea that disability=inability. They help the world continue to believe harmful stereotypes that are just blatantly untrue.

Disability is constructed by our culture and does not mean people are incapable or worth less than others. Until we stop spreading harmful stories like these, people with disabilities will continue to be treated as charity cases with few rights.

To better understand this idea, read:

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