Paralympians deserve recognition just as much as
Men missing limbs go out and run faster races than many college track stars. Men and women in wheelchairs crash into each other recklessly in the name of competition. These are athletes in the prime of their careers, pushing their bodies to the limits to be crowned champion. And despite the intense competition and displays of athleticism, you won?t find these sports anywhere on television in America.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the 2004 Paralympic Games, an 11-day event held after the Olympic Games that pits the world?s best disabled and handicapped athletes against each other. While the games are modified to tailor to their disabilities, the events still mirror Olympic competition, including basketball, cycling, soccer, and swimming. Advancements in medical technology and personal training have made the Games more intriguing than ever, allowing Paralympians to have performances comparable to top levels of physically abled competition. Last year, the United States placed fourth in the overall medal count, 53 medals behind first-place finisher China.
However, many Americans wouldn?t even know about the events if not for the recent sport documentary Murderball, which follows the U.S. wheelchair rugby team in their journey to the Games. Though it seems that the film will eventually become a cult favorite at best, it has still left a more lasting impression of the competition involved in the games and the games themself than anything seen in America to date.
I believe the reason for this is simple: The Paralympic Games aren?t marketed to the masses in America. Why watch a blind cyclist work for a gold medal when we have 24-hour-a-day coverage of Lance Armstrong in France? Why watch amputees race when track is, at best, a novelty sport in America anyway? Why broadcast another, less attractive Olympics that might confuse viewers when the real thing happened just weeks earlier?
The biggest case for broadcasting these games can?t be explained fully in words, but rather was best presented in Murderball. The film captures the dedication and camaraderie presented by the Games, and more importantly showcases the sense of competition that is inherent in all sport. Viewers begin to see the sacrifices that these men make for their team, the friendships and bonds they forge as teammates, and the rivalries and respect (or lack thereof) interwoven in competition.
Like all athletes, the game becomes a huge part of who they are, changing them and making them stronger in light of their own misfortune. The movie begins as a film about a team of paraplegics playing a sport you?ve never heard of. It ends as a movie about a team and a common bond, a film as powerful as Hoop Dreams was to athletes years before.
The Paralympic Games have proven that compelling factors to merit national coverage lie within their competitions. The Paralympics offer endless storylines, most of them more interesting than those in the ?real? Olympic Games. With a steadily increasing level of competition across Paralympic sports, it is no longer viable to say that these events aren?t exciting enough to present on television. With ESPN constantly expanding and Fox Sports Net trying to keep up, it is no longer acceptable to keep the Paralympic Games in the shadows. Tell the folks in the broadcast booths to put competitive billiards and poker on the side burner for a while ? there are Olympians who are waiting for their spotlight in America.