Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anticipating the Olympics? Look beyond -- to the 2012 Paralympics

I know that a great deal of excitement is building as the Olympic Games in London draw near. And I'll certainly be watching. But for me and a growing number of sports fans around the world, another set of games just two weeks after the closing ceremonies will also have my attention: The Paralympics.

I recently talked to disability sport activist (he advocates for equality of access for all people in sport, as a matter of fact) Eli Wolff for a book chapter I'm writing on disabled athletes and media coverage.

Wolff points to evidence that the visibility for high-performing disabled athletes is growing in popular culture. For instance, the ESPY awards Wednesday night (July 11) on ESPN will, as they have in recent years, recognize top male and female athletes in adapted (disability/Paralympic sports).

And, occasionally, a disabled athletes breaks into the big-time media spotlight. That has been the case with Oscar Pistorius, the "blade runner" from South Africa who, running on prosthetics, has earned a spot on the Olympic team, competing with able-bodied runners.

Of course, there is room for a great deal more media attention to athletes with a disability. In the U.S., viewers see far less coverage of the Paralympics than in other countries around the globe. It's safe to say that many Americans don't even know about the event.

Wolff sometimes gets frustrated with the slow pace at which society is moving to recognize, accept and celebrate the diversity of sporting accomplishment. "Sometimes I wish the progress was faster," he says. Wolff says that disabled-sports advocates could coalesce more and find a common voice with which to get out their message.

Now, even without the mainstream media, advocates and fans can get the word out. Wolff believes social media -- including blogs like this one -- have the potential to raise awareness and support for accomplished athletes who otherwise do not get much media attention. Social media “can get good stories out there and get people to mobilize,” Wolff said. “That’s part of the opportunity for disability sport – in telling good stories.”  The Paralympics, not long from now, will certainly provide them the opportunity to do it. And Wolff will be there -- laptop computer at the ready -- to share the stories of great athletes competing in a top-tier, international sporting event.

For more from Wolff,, find him -- where else? - on Twitter (@eliwolff10) and Facebook.

-- Marie Hardin

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