Friday, March 20, 2009

On Obama, Athletes, and Insults

I'm writing from Buffalo, N.Y., where I'm coaching in the USA Disabled Hockey Festival. I'm surrounded by athletes whose courage and competitiveness would rival that of most professional athletes. They include teams of athletes who cannot walk, but who leave their wheelchairs to play ice hockey with specially designed sleds. (Imagine "Murderball" on ice.) Other teams are made up of men and women with autism, Down Syndrome, and other developmental disabilities. I just had lunch with Max Maksimyadis, the 2008 USA Disabled Hockey Athlete of the Year, a dominating goalie who doesn't even use a stick. His cerebral palsy allows him to use only one arm, and he chooses to use that arm to catch. (Read his inpiring story.)

So I was disappointed to come across the news about President Obama's insensitive insult to all athletes with challenges on the Tonight Show last night, when he referred to his embarrassing bowling performance -- "it was like Special Olympics or something." Tim Shriver, the head of Special Olympics, credited the president for recognizing his gaffe and apologizing even before his interview on the Tonight Show aired. Maria Shriver, Gov. Schwarzenegger's wife and Tim's sister, said laughing at Special Olympians "hurts millions of people throughout the world."

This story will likely blow over after a while, but it really bothers me. I expect that kind of behavior from people who are insensitive to people with disabilities, not from people who I believe are open-minded and accepting of people who are different from them. Your thoughts?
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