For a while it started to feel like we almost got there. But the reality is we fell short. It will do little good to cast blame around, however due to certain streams of funding and motivations by particular groups the Paralympics are slip sliding away. As I watch the Olympics out of the corner of my eye I often wonder how the 2 track events we had, the Men’s 1500 and the Women’s 800 were cast aside. Now instead we have started to see more alternative sports such as skateboarding, typically an X- Games sport creep its way in. Why? Because people will watch. It is really simple as that. Why do you think swimming, running, gymnastics and many of the other popular sports are on the major network, while the others get relegated to the sub-channels? Mom and Dad watch Judo, everybody watches Simone Biles.
Back in 2014 I did my last announcing job for the Paralympics. I have already chronicled this in a previous article, however a quick refresher. It was seriously at that point where I saw the decline in public interest. The production crew did the best they could with the material they were given and in general it was fine. But fine is all it really was. There is so much behind the scenes that most don’t have an inkling of–call it the politics of which sports and which individuals will be highlighted and receive notoriety. That is why we have been stuck for 16 years talking about Tatyana McFadden. (By the way, this is nothing against McFadden, she has successfully and admirably represented our country and community.) The point is that the mainstream gets one idea in their heads and they just keep running with it. Before the London Games I had a detailed conversation with another high profile athlete on ways to bolster our images and ways to increase knowledge of our sporting world. I suggested that the best way was to get us integrated into the able bodied world of sports coverage. More directly I suggested we vie for 3 pages in a magazine such as Sport Illustrated. This was just a loose idea that didn’t go very far, however I do believe that there is a better way than the road we are currently traveling down.
Moving the Paralympics into the mainstream:
1. Bring back the 2 track events we had, the Men’s 1500 and the Women’s 800. Do both a semi and a final for both races, that’s 4 times on the track in front of the world.
2. Handcycling has become one of the higher profile events we have seen in quite some time. Its fast, its exciting to watch, the equipment rides the cutting edge more than perhaps any other in our sporting world. Basically its a sport I feel I would be willing to watch even if I never knew anything about disability. Probably the best way to maximize coverage would be a criterium. Multiple lap races, good crowd noise, easy coverage, dicey racing!
3. Basketball. One of the original sports, known by nearly everybody would be very cool. The days of constant 2 bounce dribbling, lots of passing and low scoring games has been replaced by fast paced action, advanced ball playing chairs and long range shots. Once again, tight viewing confines, camera ready because the court will be set up for able bodied basketball and a great place for a loud audience.
Look, I’m not saying we should abandon the Paralympics, but face the facts. We have been trying to jam that square peg in the round hole for the better part of 4 decades and its not been effective. The Paralympics are about to receive 1200 hours of coverage after the Olympic games are over, but wouldn’t it be better to get 5 hours in front of the world in the actual Olympic Games? Let’s still have our games and do it really right. While watching some of the Olympic Track qualifying at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon I thought of how cool it would be to host the Paralympics in a venue like that. What a state of the art and beautiful facility to host our games. There are equally high level venues all around the world where the Paralympics could be hosted too, keeping it a global event. Just maybe by having our own games, and at the same time maintaining a healthy relationship with the USOC for funding and promotion would go a longer way towards overall success. Just my thoughts.