Not too long ago, I was in Durham, NC, taking part in a PSA and an interview about how adaptive sports and the nonprofit organization Bridge II Sports have affected my life. As I was being interviewed, the cameraman asked me, “What do you think about people who say wheelchair basketball isn’t a sport?”
In a burst of passion and anger that rivaled that of Joseph Stalin, I fired back, “Those people are stupid.” However, I regained my wits, and came up with a much more eloquent answer while still having a Stalin-like tone.
I submitted to the cameraman that the game of wheelchair basketball is a sport because the competitive sport of basketball is being played. If I have to go up and down the court and play both offense and defense and adhere to the rules and regulations of the game, then I am playing a sport.
I did a little research on this absurd idea, and I found an article written by Joe Clark, a Canadian blogger that wheelchair sports in general are struggling to keep their legitimacy. Clark argues that what challenges the legitimacy of wheelchair sports is the inclusion of able-bodied players. He writes:
“The inclusion of able-bodied athletes is a perennial topic in crip-sport circles –and that’s ironic considering how hard disabled athletes have had to work to earn respect as legit athletes. At essence, to contemplate the acceptance of able-bodied athletes in wheelchair sports is to call into question the very philosophy of wheelchair sport.”
Clark is dead-on in his statement. Adaptive sports are designed specifically for those with disabilities. The issue at hand is that some able-bodied players slip through the cracks and fake an injury or a disability in order to play adaptive sports.
Having able-bodied players competing in wheelchair basketball takes the beauty out of the game. That is, wheelchair basketball exists so that individuals with disabilities can show able-bodied individuals how capable they really are.
This is not to say that wheelchair athletes never want able-bodied individuals to play adaptive sports. On the contrary, wheelchair athletes encourage able-bodied friends to participate in adaptive sports.
Nonprofit organizations like Bridge II Sports work all year long to promote wheelchair basketball and other adaptive sports demos at UNC, Duke, and the PNC Arena. They try to get able-bodied individuals to play adaptive sports so that those individuals can feel what it is like playing certain sports in a wheelchair.
I even planned a wheelchair basketball demo with the university’s Disability Support Services’ coordinator. The turnout was amazing; all the able-bodied individuals — which consisted of professors, students, faculty and staff, and even the president of William Peace — had a great time, and the university wants to make the demo an annual event.
However, what wheelchair athletes are saying is that a line needs to be drawn between playing against people who are able-bodied in a fun demo game versus playing them in an actual competition during the season of the Nation Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA).
The reason why some people think wheelchair basketball is not a real sport is because of the incorporation of able-bodied individuals in the sport. And they are right. If able-bodied people play the game, it becomes regular basketball with regular players. The only difference is that they cannot dunk.
If able-bodied people want to play adaptive sports on a truly competitive level, they have to go through a violent and painful initiation process.
Do you think wheelchair basketball is a sport? Should able-bodied people play wheelchair basketball competitively? Leave a comment, and tell me what you think.