Sports And The Disabled

By Gary Norris Gray, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: August 20, 2009

Wilma Rudolph CALIFORNIA (BASN) — Among inland African countries like Northern Benin, Niger, Eastern Nigeria, and Chad, the disabled children became kings and queens.

Some African communities saw it as a sign from the heavens that blessed them with this child that looked different. The chances of survival were not good if you were born disabled on the African West Coast.

The disabled child was taken to the ocean and thrown in to drown and die. Some remote places in Asia, Latin America and Africa still practice this prehistoric archaic act.

Black and white slave traders would capture parents of disabled children, leaving them to die. These helpless children could not help themselves. In Africa just like America, the child helped the family around the house, farm, and rising siblings.

The disabled child could not perform these duties because of their lack of or limited mobility.

There is a poignant moment in the movie “Ray” — the story of blind singer and entertainer, Ray Charles. Every disabled child experiences a moment like this. They either rise above the challenge or fall in despair.

In this scene little Ray is on the floor after he falls down. Lying on the floor Ray screaming help to his mother. She hears him and does not respond. She looks at him with tears streaming down her face.

She knows that if Ray is going to survive in this world he will have to pick himself up off of the floor and begin his fight for their independence.

He whines for a few seconds, but then it clicks. His mind moves into overdrive, the drive for human survival. He starts hearing things he had never heard before.

He notices everything, the whistle of the tea kettle, the fly buzzing; the cows mooing, the cars passing the house and even the scent of his mother.

Getting up off the floor he states, “Mom I know your there so why not help me??” This moment happens to most disabled children and a new world begins. It is the point of liberation, the point of independence.

Olympic Champion Wilma Rudolph had a very difficult childhood one leg was shorter then the other and twisted. Wilma wore a heavy leg brace on that leg. She contracted polio as a child.

Many thought she would not survive her teenage years because she was always ill. Doctors told her that she would never walk normal again, but Rudolph defied the odds.

Her mother told her you have to keep up with your brothers and sisters and you have to beat your classmates because you are different. Wilma did not know what to do because it took her longer to get to and from school.

Right then was her disabled moment. She decided that she would run to school everyday and beat her siblings and classmates to school. This would later make her the best female runner in the world, beating world class runners.


The mothers protected and hid their disabled child from the master. If the master saw that the child was disabled he would take him immediately and killed him or her.

This child was considered a liability and not an asset to the master because the child was eating food and not producing anything for the master’s economic profit.

This continued at the turn of the 20th century or the modern era. Black disabled children lived in the basement or attic unseen by family or friends. The stigma of having a disabled child was too great.

Harriett Tubman, one of the greatest heroines was a strong disabled Black woman. She wanted to free other disabled slaves but the mothers would never tell her. This broke her heart.

As mentioned earlier, Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals in the 1960 Summer Games in Rome. This would have made freedom fighter Harriett Tubman very proud.


The first experiments with the gas chambers were with disabled German citizens. These monsters tested “how to” exterminate humans efficiently.

Disabled citizens had to wear bright yellow arm bands all the time, making it much easier for the German police to round them up.

The term “deaf and dumb” came from the Nazi regime. It has stood the test of time and American society still use this horrible phrase. Deaf people are not dumb.

A new form of slave labor – disabled Eastern European females – were given 10 needles to sew new German military uniforms. If the workers broke all the needles they were sent to the gas chambers to die.

This showed the world the quality of life or lack of quality for the disabled.

Today it has vastly improved.

Basketball star Mike “Stinger” Glenn, Southern Illinois University great all American guard grew up with two parents who are deaf. He learned sign languages at a young age; he understood the difficulties his parents experienced.

Glenn promised his parents that he would help deaf children whenever he could. The former NBA player opened a camp for deaf children. He taught many at Southern Illinois University the art of communication in (ASL) American Sign Languages.

During his playing career, Glenn tried to get the NBA to broadcast their games with Closed Captioning. Today, most sports broadcast are closed captioned for the hearing impaired.

Now deaf basketball fans can enjoy the game like everyone else.

Baseball player John Curtis Pride was drafted by my beloved New York Mets; and also played for the Montreal Expos, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and finallythe Atlanta Braves during his career.

First baseman William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy, changed the game of baseball through the signs you see now in baseball were created by Hoy. The umpires strike call, the out and safe call, the fair and foul signs, and the third and first base coach’s signs to the batters were created at this time.

These are the positive events that have occurred because of this disability.

However, the American film and movie industry still does not understand. The appalling movie produced last year called “Tropic Thunder”, with Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr.

The movie included scenes about mentally disabled citizens calling them the R- word many times. For those who don’t know the R-word it’s retarded. This name has been politically and socially unacceptable for years.

The movie was a comedy, but most disabled Americans and the disabled community at large did not think it was funny. During the movie’s first weekend it was the highest rated movie at that time. This shows the insensitivity of the American public toward the mentally challenged and the disabled population.

Last week was a sad time most Special Olympians due to the passing of the Special Olympic Games founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of the Late President, John F. Kennedy.

In 1960, she wanted American mentally challenged children to compete and meet new people. When it started 50 years ago only half of the stadium in Boston was full and they were just friends and relatives of the children competing.

Last year, over 179 countries participate in these games. Mrs. Kennedy-Shriver was the second positive force for the disabled community in the field of sports.


President Franklin D Roosevelt could have done so much for the American disabled community because he was the first disabled President, yet he chose to hide his disability.

The country was at war and he wanted the world to see a strong American leader. Also the stigma of disability was strong and the portrayal of weakness was prominent. Disabled folk were still not accepted in society and President Roosevelt knew this.

Presently there is a Disabled African American Governor in the state of New York, Mr. David Peterson. Governor Peterson is legally blind and it is very difficult to hide his disability.

Mr. Peterson memorizes his speeches which is very impressive because I can’t remember two lines of my Saturday afternoon Blogtalk radio show!

Jim Abbott, the one-armed pitcher for the New York Yankees and California Angels and golfer Casey Martin wanted to play the game they loved. Both had physical disabilities that did not stop them. One visible, the other invisible.

Martin had to file a case with the United States Supreme Court to allow him to play on the Professional Golf Association Tour (PGA) in a golf cart because he could not stand or walk long distances.

Kicker Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints broke the record for the longest field goal in NFL history – 63 yards – in beating the Detroit Lions 19-17 in 1970. The record has been equaled in 1998 by Denver Bronco Jason Elam.

Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot. He created a modified shoe so he could play. After the record braking field goal other teams complained that Dempsey had an unfair advantage and the NFL created The Dempsey Rule in 1977.

The rule states that any shoe worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.

Again the disabled must conform to the able bodied world of rules when the rules are already stacked against the disabled player.


The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon syndrome is still with us. Disabled kids are cute, get our attention, and need assistance.

Well ladies and gentlemen disabled children do grow up. Have you ever see an older child or adult; or a child of color on this Labor Day broadcast?

Just like the Native American Indian-First Nations professional team mascots, the disabled are in a time capsule and remain in that time frame. The Cleveland Indians and the Washington Football Club want to stay in the 1920-1940’s.

Baseball star Luis Tiant stated many times that as a Latino man he disliked putting on the Cleveland Indian Uniform because of the logo on the sleeve.

Tiant loved playing baseball and loved playing for the Indians, but he could see the disrespect the organization had for Native American Indian-First Nations fans.

If more Baseball players like Tiant spoke out against Chief Wahoo, the stupid grinning mascot, would be part of the past.


The power of a disabled elected official is clearly marked by the case of Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. The state had a few curb cuts and a few accessible buildings before the 1972 assassination attempt on his life that left him paralyzed.

Governor Wallace stated he wanted his state to become wheelchair accessible and it happened in the last two years of his term. “MAKE IT SO”, as Jean-Luc Picard captain of the Starship USS Enterprise would say.

So Governor Wallace proved that it can be done when an individual in power makes the decisions. Most Disabled African Americans do not have that kind of political, social, or economic power.


The black disabled child was left out when it was time for education. Especially if the parents of that child did not know the various educational programs available for disabled children.

The disabled child would sit at home and watch T.V. all day wasting away his chance to improve him/herself. Parents and disabled young adults should contact the Social Security office in your local town to get started.

There are On The Job Training programs from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). There are tutors and assistance for the disabled student in high schools and colleges.


When a child reaches the age of 18 the United States government issues a Federal assistance check for the rest of their lives. Most African American children and their parents do not know this because they are not in the disabled networking system.


In 2000 this situation has gotten better. If the disabled child is black, male, big, and loud he/she gets categorized as DD or AD Developmental Disabled or Attention Deficit. Once this child receives this label it stays with him/her for life.

Most Children with Cerebral Palsy were labeled DD 80 % of the time. This is tragic and is very difficult to remove. Most of these children are not DD, but the teachers, doctors, and counselors cannot handle the cultural and physical issues.


Disabled African Americans were excluded from the disabled movement years ago when five white disabled males in Berkeley, California created The Center for Independent Living.

The Center gave young disabled adults their first chance at a job, the first chance to politically, socially, and economically join forces. However, this did not include African American Disabled. This was an error of omission not commission.

It was great to have a disabled movement in American but just like the beginnings of the women’s movement it lacked the participation of people of color.

Again it has improved but the cultural and economic issues are being ignored by the movement similar to the 1970’s women’s movement. That movement did not understand that African American females had been liberated 60 years earlier.

NEXT: More on African American Disabled History.