“It’s just some new fad”, “A freakshow”, “Those people should just accept that they’re invalids and crippled” I read on some of the Polish internet forums as the medals at the Paralympics kept pouring in for the country. The success of our national team seems to be the flipped image of Poland’s not so stellar performance at the main Olympics I might add. Most comments I’ve seen were overwhelmingly supportive, but the negatives- loaded with fear and aggression. And it raised so many questions in my mind. What makes sport a sport? If it’s about the perfect human physique then yes, this is something different. But I think we moved away from that with all the blockers, enhancers, trainers and practice that often causes pain and disfigures human body. Is it about the medals or is it about something else- the human spirit prevailing in any circumstance and all the sacrifices an Olympian makes. Who says main stream spot is a well established and settled concept. Women’s participation was a new thing once, not only did it never go away, we got used to it. The Olympic Committee itself verifies the list of games we get to see and every few years some sports disappear while others are added. To me, sport is a great personal accomplishment to those who participate. But to the rest of us is there any significance in how long certain games were recognized? Is it really about official recognition, self proclaimed importance, with Very Important Big Shots in Very Important Places telling us what sport is and what isn’t? I believe that for us the viewers it needs to entertaining, nothing short of spectacular. These days many enjoy watching people fighting in a cage, often paying good money to do it, something that would perhaps be unthinkable three decades ago. Times change, our perception of sports change and so do our opinions of people in it. For now, Paralympics made some people uncomfortable, although many found it breathtaking to watch.
The most important part of Paralympics is not the sport aspect, in my mind. It’s the visibility of the disability community. Normal people doing normal things. It turns out that they are out there, in public space, not usurping spotlight, but living their lives- they have hobbies and passions. Yes, some may not be used to seeing people without limbs or eyesight in roles you’d typically see the fit and beautiful. But I say, let them be uncomfortable- this is not something these people of sport decided to take on overnight. This is something that they do. I’ve written about it before. You don’t see people in wheelchairs on TV (unless occasionally played by an abled-body actor), you don’t .get blind celebrities on the red carpet. The public is never really exposed to presence of people with real-life disabilities. The more you see something, the more normal it becomes. I do think that American networks have missed a great lesson in tolerance and acceptance. By showing something American viewer doesn’t usually think about. Yes, some may be a little uncomfortable, but they’ll survive it. They’re just unfamiliar with it. And consider this- Paralympics show people with disabilities in a positive context. It’s very rare. Not sensationalizing, not going for pity, like most news stories and fiction out there. This message and this context should’ve invaded living rooms around the world. Medals help- they make people excited and interested, but it is about the message. It makes you think. Not only about others, but also your own life and circumstance. What we focus on and how we view people. A great chance to educate lost. And that’s the point that everyone missed.