Monday, March 23, 2009

A Presidential Slip

My daughter participates in a disability bowling league every Saturday morning. It’s probably the #1 thing she looks forward to during the week. Her presents at Christmas last year were her own bowling ball, shoes and bag.

I don’t know if she ever breaks 100 but she sure has fun. Thus, President Obama’s comment about “Special Olympics bowling” last week really hit home.

I’m not quite sure what to think about what he said. (I’m also not quite sure what to think about the President of the United States going on the Tonight Show!)

On one hand, when you are as overly scrutinized as he is, it is easy to make a blunder. His staff caught it during the taping and had an apology out before the show even aired!

On the other hand, the verbal “slips” that we make in public are often things that we may easily say – and believe -- in private.

Like the President, I grew up playing basketball and have played my entire life. I was an all-star, leading scorer, played Division I ball in college, but I learned more about life from basketball after I started coaching in a youth league. My daughter played in the Santa Monica YWCA basketball league and was on a team of nine-year-olds.. I was the coach. Erika usually had trouble catching the ball and would either fumble it out of bounds or get called for traveling. But one time, our top player, Stacy, got a pass from Erika and scored a lay-up. While running down to play defense, Stacy ran over to Erika and gave her a high-five to thank her for the pass. The audience knew Erika well and erupted in cheers to acknowledge the assist.

When I repeat that story, I add, “It took me to the age of 35 and a group of 9-year-old girls to show me the real meaning of basketball.”

Maybe President Obama hasn’t had the honor of having an Erika in his life, or seeing such an important play as Erika’s pass to Stacy. I have no doubt that President Obama has the best interests of the disabled in mind when he looks at policies, sets policy, etc.

Maybe this was a fortunate “slip” as it has increased awareness about the disabled and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more on the subject. I understand some Special Olympians will be visiting the White House.

Now the challenge will be to keep the agenda for the disabled front and center, as there are many issues even more important than their bowling scores, such as employment opportunities, services, access to health care (including mental health services), etc. From the experiences of raising my daughter, I think that discrimination against the “differently abled” is the most prevalent discrimination we have. I also see it in my travels around the world. It by far surpasses most of the issues that get far more press. We may end up owing President Obama a thank you for bringing this to light by an “innocent”, yet no less demeaning, comment.


Anonymous said...

Yours is the first well written, thoughtful commentary I've read on the subject. Congratulations.

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