I can name several current athletes competing for Canada and other countries at the Tokyo Olympics. I can’t, despite my support for and interest in, name any athletes who will be competing in the Tokyo Paralympics. This probably isn’t that surprising seeing as how athletes with disabilities aren’t featured as much in the media (Rees, Robinson, & Shields, 2019). Women with disabilities are featured even less often than men, and, despite it not being part of the study I’m looking at here, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that athletes who are queer and disabled are represented in media even less.
In addition, Rees, Robinson, and Shields found that there was a narrative about super humans or super crips that surrounds athletes with disabilities when they are represented in the media. This is concerning because it sets these individuals apart as being more than or better than others with disabilities which may impact how other athletes and non-athletes who have disabilities are perceived in everyday interactions.
I’ve always been frustrated that it isn’t easier for me to watch the Paralympics. But perhaps more concerning is the fact that outside of the formal Paralympics it is next to impossible to see disabled sports through the same easy avenues as able bodied sport. I would happily watch a game of sledge hockey or wheelchair basketball, both of which I had the opportunity to try once. Or a track and field competition. What does javelin look like from a wheelchair? Is there Paralympic high jump?
The argument of popularity is often used to justify reduced coverage or reduced pay, but how can a sport or an athlete become popular if they aren’t given media coverage? And, is it possible that the super human narrative is due in part to the fact that because we don’t see them often, the ones we see must be “worth” it?
Around the Olympics, commercials featuring athletes tend now to have greater representation than they used to of athletes from a wide range of backgrounds. But does this representation carry through to other times of year?
I challenge everyone who reads this to go learn the name of an athlete with disabilities from your community or country. Let’s start celebrating these individuals as much as we celebrate their able bodied counterparts.