Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Racing against no one...

Perhaps you have heard the Tatyana McFadden’s story. She’s a 16-year-old wheelchair athlete who brought a suit against the Howard County School System as part of her effort to race with her fellow members of the Atholton High School track team. Note the emphasis on “with.” She doesn’t want to compete against runners competitively, just at the same time as them. From The Sun today

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against a school district that will allow a wheelchair athlete to run at track events at the same time as her able-bodied teammates.

Tatyana McFadden, 16, won two medals at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and is a student at Atholton High School in Columbia. The Howard County school system had allowed her to practice with the track team, but ruled she must compete in separate wheelchair events.

That meant she mostly competes by herself, according to Lauren Young of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which filed a federal suit on McFadden's behalf.
The judge’s decision was met with mild derision from David Wissing and some of his commenters. Likewise, noted law blogger Eugene Volokh completely misses the point:

Nonetheless, how can it make sense to have wheelchair racers racing against foot racers? Even if Martin was rightly decided, and the requirement that one walk rather than riding from hole to hole while playing golf isn't really essential to golf, surely the requirement that one run rather than riding is essential to racing, no? You wouldn't have foot racers racing against bicyclists, unicyclists, or swimmers; these are just different sports. And if the response is that it's logically impossible to tell whether they're different sports or not, then that cuts in favor of the dissent in Martin, and against any disability law interference with the rules established by sporting event organizers.

Ugh. Apparently, the only person to actually get it was the judge, who said:
The more I hear your argument, the more transparently arbitrary and capricious it becomes," the judge said to Blom and P. Tyson Bennett, who represented the Howard County Board of Education and the superintendent of the Howard County Public Schools. "She's not suing for blue ribbons, gold ribbons or money - she just wants to be out there when everyone else is out there."
That’s it: she’s tired of “racing” alone. She doesn’t want to take medals from runners. She doesn’t want to exploit her “unfair advantage” (I never thought I’d say that about someone in a wheelchair). She just wants to have someone else on the track at the same time as her. What’s so hard to understand about that? And what makes that an unreasonable request?

Sheesh. We’re talking about freaking high school sports, the goal of which is (or should be) to build character. I know some people are hyper-obsessed about their pro-athlete-to-be competing at an extremely high level from birth, but most high school and many college athletes just want to be a part of a team, to be accepted, to enjoy the camaraderie and friendly competition, to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Why is this so hard to grasp?

1 comment:

Malnurtured Snay said...

I don't know why it is so hard to grasp -- it seems pretty basic to me. She's tired of being an "outsider." Even though she won't be "winning" or "losing" for her school, you're right -- it is about building character, and at seventeen, she's alrady got a lot more of it than I do (and I'm ten years older than she is!)