It all started with a simple response to a Facebook video post from a friend of mine. The video showed a high school basketball team and its manager who has autism. The team manager was doing a great job and the video made it clear that the team was performing a charitable act by having the boy as the manager. The team was so thrilled by the manger’s performance that they allowed him to suit up in the team uniform for practice before the team’s last game. In the video the boy is shown making not 1, not 2 but 3 3-point baskets. Yet he was not a member of the team, even though he showed the ability to shoot a 3-pointer.
Responses to the video were what you would expect. People wrote of how heartwarming the experience was for all concerned. Some even commented on having misty eyes as a result of watching it. My reaction was completely different. OK, I should have kept my fingers in my lap. But I just could not do that. I HATE it when kids with disabilities become someone else’s charity.
So I wrote a response that people should not patronize people with disabilities. Making a kid a manger just because he has a disability is insulting and disrespectful. I believe that people with disabilities also have many abilities. They should be able to compete using those abilities or not make the team or whatever else it is they are trying to do. Clearly this boy had some basketball ability. He could have played JV if he weren’t good enough for varsity. At least it would have been honest achievement.
I got a ton of responses and everyone rejected my position. No I am not opposed to Special Olympics. Those kids compete on a level playing field. They are talented athletes. I am also strongly in favor of people with disabilities being able to try out against their non-disabled peers for other school teams. Personally I would not want someone to be nice to me as an act of charity. Like me or don’t like me for whom I am not because you see it as your ticket to heaven. Does that make me cold hearted? Perhaps. It also makes me someone who respects people (including young people) for the skills that they do have. It also makes me someone who does not define a person by his/her disability label.