Disability Sport ... Is There Something Wrong?

By Beaver, David P. | Palaestra, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Disability Sport ... Is There Something Wrong?


Beaver, David P., Palaestra


We are living in an era with professional athletes dominating the sports scene, commanding tremendous salaries, while often appearing to be less than idyllic role models. Drugs, alcohol abuse, ingesting of performance enhancing supplements, brushes with the law, assault ... the list could go on and on. Sure, the professional life of an athlete is usually relatively short; however, should not those who have achieved elite status exemplify a lifestyle worthy of exaltation and emulation by younger aspiring athletes? This is not to say that all elite athletes are less than appropriate role models; however, bad news always seems to travel faster and has a longer lasting effect than good news.

Just a few years ago Congress paved the way for girls and women to enjoy an equal franchise through Title IX. Many thought the sports movement for women would certainly have learned from earlier mistakes made during the evolution of men's sports programs, thus adopting the positive aspects while discarding the negative. Seemingly, this did not happen. In an apparent need to obtain parity with their male counterparts, girls and women's sports proceeded to place the exceptionally talented athlete on a pedestal, cater to the elite performer at every level, place great store upon extrinsic rewards, ignore less than appropriate behavior--all in the name of parity. If boys and men's sports had access to facilities, received so many scholarships, had "x" number of coaches and athletes, commanded certain budgetary support, then women demanded and obtained equal treatment--all too often to the detriment of the very sports programs they were attempting to emulate.

Make no mistake about it, athletics have become big business--both in the terms of entertainment and in generating revenue. There is an obvious trickle-down effect from professional franchises in many sports, to varying degrees, within the levels of NCAA-controlled competition, until finally reaching local interscholastic sports programs within communities throughout the nation. The win-at-all-costs philosophy, the need to achieve post season play-off status, the need to keep community support and fans entertained and happy, the continued use of extrinsic rewards to motivate athletes, coupled with a tremendous need to create positive cash flow ultimately are prostituting the very foundation of amateur sport.

When coaches, teachers, and school/college administrators look the other way while subverting academic standards; condone poor conduct from players, coaches, and spectators; allow athletes in increasing numbers to utilize anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs; knowingly ignore situations in which sports programs under their aegis break rules ordained by the league, federation, or conference to which they belong; and, attempt to professionalize and commercialize sport at every level--should anyone be surprised that positive sports role models are harder to find today than ever before?

When trophies awarded to individuals and teams at the junior level are larger than the recipients, there must be something wrong with the system. When demand for excellence in performance by coaches far exceeds their understanding of the proper physiological and psychological bases for training of the human apparatus in order to facilitate the required performance, there must be something wrong with the system. When athletes are routinely excused from classes, openly passed in order to maintain academic eligibility, mistakenly believe that they do not have to study because they will make it to the pros, then there is something wrong with the system. When athletes become widely sought after by commercial sponsors, and athletic programs at every level become more interested in winning than in the ethical behavior of those involved, then there must be something wrong with the system.

With such a track record to emulate, why should anyone be surprised to find the newcomer on the block--disability sport--showing all the signs of making many of the same mistakes in its attempt to gain parity with existing sports programs for athletes without disabilities. …

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