Don’t Care (Too Much) What You Call It

Last week I was scrambling for bullet points to throw into my guest lecture for an undergraduate Ethics and Sport Management class when something fascinating happened on Facebook. (No, seriously.)

The topic of my lecture was integrated sport, and I wanted to lay out some of the issues and questions on both sides of various hypothetical circumstances in which one might combine future Paralympians into existing sport programs. Or, as I short-handed it: disability-integrated sport.

I threw the topic onto my Facebook feed and said “Good idea? Bad idea?” I expected maybe half a dozen substantive comments, and steeled myself for the inevitable opinions related to Oscar Pistorius and his appearance at the Olympics.

Surprisingly, all of the ensuing comments were about language, about labels. Specifically, my use of the term disability-integrated and what it means. And why the word disability is more or less offensive to those who have differently-functioning bodies. Yup. I know. I get it.

The thing is – and it’s taken a decade of being called everything from super human to a Special Olympian – I don’t care what you call me. The label you put on my sport career doesn’t change the training I did or the goals I accomplished, and it most-certainly doesn’t change who I am. (I arrived at that place of acceptance, by the way, mostly thanks to sport. And a stellar sport psychologist.)

Arguing over the label to put on an idea doesn’t help us debate, define, refine the idea into functional public policy. The label you put on the basketball league that allows or bans a CO player who happens to be a double-amputee with a sweet outside shot from playing in his team’s games doesn’t help us figure out what the right thing to do is. And the solution that’s right for him – is that solution the right thing for his team? What about his opponents? And the league? Does it impact the sport as a whole? Are there implications for other sports? Wow… many interesting questions!

Whatever we decide to name integrated sport programs is maybe something we can decide once we’ve figured out how to make it work.

The real discussion I want to have is this: how do we crate cost-effective policies and programs that instill in all athletes confidence in one’s abilities; can we create increasingly-competitive but fair sport opportunities for everyone; how do we connect all athletes with the resources they need to be successful at each step on their athletic journey. Regardless of whatever labels may or may not seem to apply.

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