Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Did anyone else hear Frank Deford's creepy Morning Edition story about the "Miracle League," which was created to give disabled children the chance to play baseball? At least, it seemed creepy to me. It was partly the tone of the whole thing: there was a pervasive idea that it's a "miracle" when "broken," "unlucky" disabled kids get to do perfectly ordinary things like play sports. It would be nice if disabled kids playing sports would be considered normal, not miraculous. But also, the kids in the Miracle League don't actually get to play baseball. They get to pretend to play baseball. Here are the rules, according to the Miracle League's website:



It seems to me that competition is kind of the heart of youth sports. Part of what you're supposed to learn is how to be gracious in victory and defeat. You're supposed to learn that sometimes you work your ass off and lose anyway, and that sometimes working your ass off matters more than whether you win. You learn that your teammates are still your teammates when they drop the ball. All of that stuff is supposed to benefit you later in life, and you can only learn it if you're allowed to lose. But the Miracle League assumes that disabled kids are so special and fragile that they can't handle competition. It's not just that they need the sports to be modified to meet their physical needs: in fact, there don't seem to be a whole lot of modifications involved in the Miracle League. Instead, they need to be protected from the very essence of sports. And I can't help but think that it's partly because it's assumed that they don't need to learn all those sports-related life lessons, because they're not going to do much with their lives.

There is, of course, another model, and that's the Paralympics. The Paralympics isn't about "special," "miraculous" people playing fake sports in a highly protected atmosphere: it's about athletes being athletes. It's also largely ignored in the U.S. Maybe next time Deford could do a piece on the Paralympic Academy, the youth outreach organization of the U.S. Paralympics.

An even more radical model might be Bankshot Sports, which were designed not to favor either people who use wheelchairs or people who don't. Feminists have pointed out that most sports were designed to stress the areas in which men tend to be stronger, thus reinforcing the idea that women are the weaker sex. It would be possible to create sports in which women would be equal to or even better than men. Similarly, it might be possible to invent sports that would allow disabled and non-disabled athletes to compete equally. A real "Miracle League," I think, would be one where disabled and non-disabled athletes played together and nobody thought it was a big deal.

Comments:
Yeah, that Miracle League thing made me uneasy, too. I think he was well-meaning, but it came over kind of.. yucky.
 
What's unspoken in it is an assumption that the disabled kids aren't smart enough to know that this is not real baseball.
 
Yeah. Or maybe they're supposed to be so grateful for getting to play even fake baseball that they aren't supposed to mind.
 
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