Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Disability and sports: Defining 'normal'

A colleague pointed out a column posted before Christmas that I had missed, but it is worth noting. Susan LoTempio, AME for Readership at The Buffalo News, wrote about "better-off-dead" framing that is common in stories about injured athletes. The recent example she used is the story of NFL player Kevin Everett, whose spine was seriously injured. She writes:
    "In our athlete-as-hero worshipping culture, there seems no greater tragedy for an athlete than to be "normal" one day and "not normal" the next. That's why, when an athlete gets hurt, you get dramatic language in stories and headlines like, "fallen hero suffering the ultimate tragedy" or "waging an inspirational fight for his life."

    In other words, we in the media perpetuate the definition of what is normal. And while it makes great copy, it assumes that the athlete's life may as well be over because he will never walk again, never play again, never be "whole" again."

LoTempio provides excellent recommendations for writing about athletes with injuries. She points out that wheelchair-users do lead "normal" lives -- many of them involving sports participation.

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