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December 4, 2010

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Professor Mika Lavaque-Manty spoke eloquently of the position of sport in the world as a means of establishing position. For this reason, I decided a reference to that American golden age of sporting, hairdos, fashion, television, the 1980s was necessary; therefore, I included an image of the cover of Huey Lewis and the News on their album entitled “Sports.” In all seriousness, the Professor begins chapter five of his book, The Playing Fields of Eton, with a quote by paraplegic athlete, Scott Hogsett, who said of his endeavors as an athlete, “We’re not going for a hug, we’re going for a f***ing gold medal.” This addresses the fact that we, as a nation (and could even expand that statement to those in the civilized world) tend to treat parathletes as though they were lesser. The people who participate in the Paralympics and other sporting exercises for the disabled are seen in inferior terms. The Professor also discusses women, and how their sporting ability is sometimes scorned as well. This is because, physically speaking, neither meets the classification that men have. It is a biological and physiological fact, that a man who does wheelchair sprints will not be able to sprint like a regular Olymic athlete. A female Olympic weightlifter will never be able to lift as much as a male Olympic weightlifter.

However, in spite of these physical differences, these athletes have been allowed to play as institutional barriers the Professor mentions have been, piece by piece, broken down. The thing of it is, there also is a barrier, the Professor referred to as a values barrier that people also struggle to overcome, whether it be those who prejudicially think the women or disabled are incapable or whether it be those who don’t acknowledge the inexorable facts of life that the disabled and women must face in their base physical differences from a typical male athlete. The problem here lies in the fact that the mentality required to engage in sport is not addressed. These people all have different limits, but are all striving, pushing their bodies to those individual limits. To push a body to the uppermost limit of its potential is a very mentally demanding process, and it is no easier for any one group over the other to do so. Therefore, when we do not respect the people who are willing to do that, and treat them as equals for the mental toughness they display to achieve such a tremendous level of excellence within their contigent inhibitions, we make them into second class citizens. To take a person who has exhibited such determination and grit and dismiss them is to rob them of the time, effort, blood, and pain they endured to get to such a point. It is a deplorable notion for anyone to think that the devaluing of the unparalleled efforts these athletes input into their lives is legitimate for the sake of political correctness. When Scott Hogsett has to articulate the fact that he is playing hard and fast to achieve a gold medal, and not a “hug,” it demonstrates the fact that we as a society have taken to babying those who don’t want to be babied. The only solution is to take those who would go through the long, intense, painful process of finding and reaching their full potential, whatever level that may be, and recognize them for the mental toughness and acuity they displayed in getting there. See them for their greatness, not their setbacks.

  1. xiaoyzhang permalink
    December 4, 2010 11:05 PM

    I believe the word “belittle” is inappropriate in this situation. I don’t think that society treats women and/or handicapped athletes anymore differently than we do male athletes. However, I do believe that male athletes (not handi There are 2 reason why I believe male sports/athletes are more revered:

    1. Male athletes just get more coverage by the media, and thus, are more widely known. The sports society today is run by the media. Just think about it. ESPN is the biggest hype machine on the planet. The analysts on ESPN spit out BS just to pump up the big names like LeBron, A-Rod, Peyton Manning etc. Most of the time, if one looks into the facts, none of what they say is true. Throw in the fact that everyone watches it, and this is what causes society to not pay attention to anything else besides male-dominated sports.

    2. Overall, males are more gifted. This is not an attack on women but men are more physically gifted and can do much more with their abilities. This also applies to handicapped athletes. Handicapped athletes just dont bring satisfy what an average sports fan wants to watch.

  2. Molly Niedbala permalink
    December 4, 2010 11:54 PM

    I think both your post and the first comment disregard (to varying degrees) the idea that watching women and the handicapped perform in sports can actually be quite entertaining. In response to the post – I agree with what you’re saying but (and I may be misinterpreting you here) to me your tone comes off as this: We should watch women’s and the handicapped’s sports because they deserve it as much as others do. I don’t object to the idea that they deserve the same credit that non-handicapped male athletes do (they definitely do), but I do object to the idea that that is WHY we should care. We shouldn’t watch out of pity. We should watch for the same reasons we watch others.

    Why DO we watch sports? To me, it’s because athletes do what we can’t. We’re impressed. But why are we impressed? Is it because they’re physically superior? Perhaps. But then we must ask why they ARE physically superior. What is it that makes them so impressive? The answer is their mental strength – their willpower to put in massive amounts of grueling work and dedication. If all people put in the same extremely intense amount of work that athletes do, we would all come pretty close to their level of skill. Their superiority would still be impressive, but how much more impressive would it be than our own abilities?

    What makes sports great is the knowledge that the athletes we watch have dedicated their lives to what they do – that what we’re seeing is the result of hours upon hours of pain and stress and exhaustion. Is it really what we’re watching that’s so impressive? To me, when I really think about it, no. Rather, it’s the amount of work I know it took to get to that point that blows me away. That’s what sets athletes apart from everyone else.

    So yes, women and the handicapped cannot do what non-handicapped men, on average, can. Their competitive goals are technically less. But are they any less impressive? Do their accomplishments take any less work to achieve? For some handicapped people, the work they put in is probably much more straining than that which non-hanicapped people must do. As a result, to me the Paralympics are often even cooler to watch than the regular Olympics. Even more so than when I watch the Olympics, I find myself thinking: ‘If I wanted to be able to do what these people are doing, would I have the willpower to work toward that?’ The answer is a definite negative.

    In response to the first comment – As a woman I’m a bit offended by your word choice. I do not consider myself less “gifted” than any man because, on average, my physical abilities are less. And even with respect to physical abilities, as the professor pointed out, more women are more flexible than their male counterparts. Some might argue that we’re also generally more graceful. (However, this may only be because women are often more exposed to dance than men are due to cultural gender roles.) The same goes for the handicapped. Look at handicapped racers – Lavaque-Manty’s example. Sure, people in wheel-chairs have weaker leg muscles – if they even have legs at all. But what about their arms? Their arms have to propel them forward to a far, far greater degree than non-handicapped racers’ do. What of their endurance? Is this less, on average, than any non-handicapped racers’? I would personally go as far to call handicapped athletes (on average) also more “physically gifted” than non-handicapped ones. They have to work to overcome difficulties that non-handicapped people would likely find hard to imagine. And as I said before, that’s what makes them worth watching, to me. That’s what makes them great. I don’t watch them because they deserve it, and you shouldn’t either. Watch because you’re impressed.

  3. Lorna Malja permalink
    December 5, 2010 4:53 PM

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading it! And i agree with you completely! Men do get alot of attention in sports, and they are physically more athletic than women and handicapped atheltes. It is unfortunate but true. However, woman athletes and handicapped athletes work just as hard at their sports to reach excellence in their field. They should be recognized just as much as men sports. I don’t think we should pity or look down upon handicapped atheletes. They are doing what they love to do and are excelling. Just because they are handicapped does not mean anything. We should look up to them because they are persevering and showing extreme courage. Their determinantion is absolutely amazing.

  4. awodarczyk permalink
    December 5, 2010 7:37 PM

    I thought this post was very interesting, and I like how you pointed out how under-estimated the work load of all athlete. Sure professional men athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than women and hanicapped athletes, but every athlete if man or women, works extremely hard to achieve thier personal best. To reach excellence is completely different for every person, and each person reaches thier goal in a different way. Just because the pace and speed of the game isn’t fast, doesn’t mean the athletes in that game aren’t trying hard.

  5. Meredith Ambinder permalink
    December 5, 2010 8:12 PM

    I think both the original post and the comments that follow bring up very interesting points. It is unfortunate that society is unable to appreciate those who have achieved just as much (which would be to push their bodies to that “limit”) simply because their best does not compare to that of men. As a female, I would like to sit here and complain about this inequality: the way in which women are not paid as much, or do not receive as much media coverage, etc. However, when I think about it, I admittedly can understand why most would rather watch Lebron James fly over three 6’8″ guys to slam a basketball into the hoop than to follow the WNBA in which, last time I checked, Lisa Leslie was the only woman to ever dunk in a game. Men’s sports seem to be more thrilling to watch, simply because they are able to do more with their bodies.

    However, this gender issue gets me thinking about whether or not there is something that women have an advantage in. It seems “unfair” to me that women do not have the same physical ability as men, yet there is not one area that comes to mind when I try to think of where women have those same advantages that help them to be “better” than men. I put unfair in quotes simply because it seems like one of those complaints to which one can only accept “c’est la vie”. Yet am I overlooking some area?

    Though it doesn’t have to do with being “better”, there are several other “c’est la vie”-type aspects of life that benefit women. For example, as Professor LaVaque-Manty mentioned in lecture, when participating in the practice of dating, men typically pay for the meal. Or, I wonder how I might look at this situation had I been living during the time when the draft was used. While men were biting their nails waiting to be called to war, women did not have to be concerned. Do these types of things make up for the fact that women are not as physically able?

    Life is full of inequalities, yet the question of whether they were “god-made” or if we, as a society, ultimately create them continues to puzzle me.

  6. mbhilton permalink
    December 5, 2010 9:09 PM

    I agree with the second post. It’s because of all of the effort and training that watching an athlete perform is entertaining. I feel it’s the same no matter what their level is. Even watching kids in little league sports is something that everyone can enjoy, not because of their ability, but because of the effort and heart they put into it. We easily forget this however when we listen to commentators and try to analyze the athletes.

  7. Andrew Laing permalink
    December 5, 2010 10:29 PM

    The male athlete has always been held in the highest regard. This is because he is capable of possessing skills that excited fans could never personally achieve. It is true that there is no difference in the mental toughness/determination showed by both women and the handicapped, but athletics isnt about equality or “everyone gets a medal”. It is about who is the best in their competition. To separate these competitions into three different classes is in itself prejudice.

    My opinions are based on watching my brother wrestle in high school. One of the best wrestlers our team faced had no legs. He was highly skilled and although his disability may have been unfair he overcame the difference with toughness. Also, our high school team had a female member who was fairly talented in her own right.

    It is only through allowing all parties to compete equally amongst each other that the walls or prejudice will fade away. They are simply social constructions that inhibit women and the handicapped from competing with men. There will always be someone bigger, stronger, and faster no matter what category you fall into. There is no athletic equality in any sense at anytime. Therefore, why do we try to pretend like it by separating women and the disabled from men?

    Today we know gender roles are learned. if a hypothetical female grew up always playing with the boys i have no doubt that her hand-eye coordination would be much closer to the boys than girls who have little training. Over time these physical differences may be overcome. However, in antiquity and modern day males are the most talented. This is why an estimated 15 million people watch Monday Night Football and less than 300000 watch the WNBA.

    My cousin is Krista Clement who was Miss Michigan Basketball, and the first true freshman captain of the lady wolverines basketball team. She was very good, however, coming to watch her play i realized the universities women’s team had the same fundamental problems my freshman basketball team had. These problems can only be remedied by athletic excellence and grace. While it is my opinion today we only see this excellence in mens sports, by breaking down the castes of physical difference we will allow a new generation of the disabled and women athletes moving towards this excellence.

    • blanchc permalink
      December 9, 2010 9:47 PM

      Although I do disagree with a lot of your comment, the thing I take the most issue with is the last paragraph. I understand that males are physically stronger and thus more apt to be better at sports, however to suggest that your high school freshmen basketball team is just as good as the University of Michigan women’s varsity basketball team is taking things a bit too far. And then you go on to say that “these problems can be remedied by athletic excellence and grace. While it is my opinion today we only see this excellence in mens sports, by breaking down the castes of physical difference we will allow a new generation of the disabled and women athletes moving towards this excellence.”

      First of all, women’s sports aren’t that bad that there isn’t “athletic excellence”. It may not be as exciting to most people to watch the best female athletes as compared to the best male athletes, but there are certainly women and handicapped athletes who have achieved athletic excellence, not only when compared to other women and handicapped people, but also to male athletes.

      Second of all, I may be misinterpreting, but I believe that your comment is suggesting that separating women, men, and handicapped athletes is inherently prejudiced and that “overtime these physical differences may be overcome” if we were to just level the playing field and get rid of gender roles. But I don’t think it’s quite as easy as that. In order for the best female athletes to be able to realistically physically compete with the best male athletes there would have to be some type of biological evolution, because as it is now males are simply physically stronger. Simply leveling the playing field will do nothing because men will simply dominate, which is what happened in the past and is partially why Title IX was enacted.

  8. December 8, 2010 10:48 PM


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