Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A thank you to my basketball coach. Or, sports inclusion for realsies.

So I am writing this in reaction to this godsawful inspiration porny video that's going around. I'm not linking to it because I will not have that filth on my blog. Basically, a high school basketball coach put in the team manager, who has an intellectual disability, and every damn person on the court-his team and not his team-passed him the ball until he made a basket.

This is not inspiring. This is not inclusion. This is patronizing and yuck.

So, I feel compelled to write about middle school basketball. Yep, I played team sports in 6th-8th grade: basketball, volleyball, and soccer. But I am going to focus on basketball because that is the sport of the day, and because that is the sport where I think the school's coach did it best.

My mom really wanted me to be good at standard sports, so in 6th grade-middle school sports were no cut-she signed me up for basketball. And. I was shit awful. I wasn't exactly afraid of the ball; it's big and orange so I can get out of the way. I couldn't really catch yet, the ball didn't always go exactly where I threw it, I had that kind of autistic quality to my movement in that I'd get where I was going but look funny doing it. I could in theory make a basket. Sometimes. Ish.

Really? The beginning of my first season? The only things I had going for me as a player were that I could get from one end of the court to the other faster than average and I had no fear of being run over by larger players.

And Coach C could have decided to not play me, or to give me some patronizing role, but he didn't. I ran all the drills. I ran suicides. I ran three person weave (a passing drill). I learned all the fancy ways to dribble. I played more games of Horse and Knockout than I can imagine. We shot freethrows. We scrimmaged.

And you know what? In 6th grade? I kind of totally sucked. I made a few baskets, but my primary role was getting rebounds and being another warm body on the court between the opponent and the basket. 

But I worked hard in practice. I was part of the team. I was weird. I needed different directions sometimes. There are things I couldn't do, and we were all aware of that; I'm really short to have been a forward and a center rather than a guard. I just don't have that particular skillset. But Coach C worked within my skillset. I was considered competent. I learned the skills. We had a really tall point guard who didn't have the plant-yourself-in-the-paint ability I did. She is able. That's what you do as a coach-you work with your athlete's abilities.

And then a funny thing happened. In 7th grade? I was a starter. Yeah, that's right, the kid who couldn't dribble a year ago was starting. Because I was competent. Because I was part of the team. The buzzer went off & my hands were over my ears, but I was part of the team. Halfway through the season I sometimes stayed to play in the 8th grade games as well-small school meant small teams & that was allowed. I scored every seventh grade game I played in, as I recall, and in one 8th grade game. I even scored a basket when half our team fouled out & we only had 3 left on the court.

Eighth grade? I started. Usually I jumped, even. As a team we sucked, honestly, what with being a combined 7th-8th team of I think 8 players. But I had improved as an individual. By the end of my basketball career, I legitimately had basketball skills. I can dribble between my legs, shot 85% on freethrows, all that jazz. No one who saw me on the court would question that I was an athlete.

And if Coach C had taken the attitude towards players with disabilities that so many people take, I wouldn't have learned any of those skills. Yes, Coach C took a chance playing me in the game. He may have "wasted" coaching resources on me-but he didn't seem to think he did. He treated me like a real person, like a real athlete. He took my differences into account, but ultimately he had the same high expectations for me as for every other athlete on that team.

And that is where my problem lies with these "heartwarming" videos. There's no dignity in them. None. I may have sucked my first year of basketball, but I knew damn well that when I scored, I scored. People played defense-they saw me as enough a person to be a legitimate contender. And that's way better than being the charity case of the night. Any day.

This leaves a bad taste in my mouth because everyone conspired to be all heartwarming and charitable and shit. It's just so dehumanizing. If his team had gotten him the ball and set the mother of all picks? That would have been kinda rad. I could have lived with that. But when the other team is passing you the ball that is an insult.

In 7th grade there was a girl who knocked me down repeatedly at one game. It's just how the sport goes, you know? And she kept helping me up. And I was angry. "She doesn't even think I can get up by myself".

If she had been handing me the ball? Oh god! That would have been the one time Coach C had to treat me differently, because I would have gone absolutely ballistic. I was not 'disabled' on the court. I was another player, and wanted to be treated as such.

I am so, so glad that I did sports in a tiny little league that had no choice but to actually play me, with a coach who had the philosophy that hard work is more important than natural ability. I don't want to be anyone's feel good story for a moment. I learned real skills, I was part of a team, and that felt way better for way longer. I won't ever look back and wonder about them passing me the ball-I know it wasn't motivated by pity or some feel good thing. It was because I was their teammate, I was open, and I had developed skills with them.

So, thanks, Coach C. I'm no one night wonder inspiration superstar. And I thank you for it. Thank you for letting me be just another player instead of a vehicle for some feel good garbage.


tagaught said...

*sighs* The system lost my first attempt at a comment, so I'm going to try and re-create it here. It was such a lovely comment too!

I first heard about the video from the email I got updating me on the status of Unstrange Mind's blog (the post has since been deleted, because of hurtful comments). I really do have to agree with both your and her viewpoints on this. It's ableism at its worst, because it doesn't look like that to people who aren't paying full attention; it just looks like the people involved were being kind / compassionate. And it encourages that kind of behaviour to continue. These are not the kind of people we need supporting us.

Yay for Coach C! Now he's the kind of person who gives us the needed support. If I'd been interested in sports as a kid (which I wasn't, especially after a disastrous attempt at summer soccer; I still can't catch anything thrown or kicked at me, no matter how small or large), he's the kind of person I'd want as a coach. Someone who pushed me to do my best, through hard work and practice. Three cheers for Coach C! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray!

Thank you for this post. We need more people to be aware of what things like this really mean to us.

I have tweeted this post on my account, and have added you to my blogroll.

;) tagAught

Unknown said...

Support. I'm not much of an athlete but people didn't just kinda nudge the ball at my goal. They tried to score, and I got to stop them.

I suspect that if the opposition is helping one score, the game's already decided. Inclusion for athletic purposes counts when it affects the outcome of the event, people.


Ashembers said...

I had a different perspective on this video - I watched this video as a dad of an autistic boy, and found it heartwarming (I wept really) because I REALLY HOPE someday he will find a way to show up the rest of us and make his coach or teachers feel rather embarrassed (as that boy's coach should have been) for not giving him a better chance sooner. Or maybe he'll get a real chance - our school district is very positive about his differences. For typical folks like me, regular life is throwdown enough, with all the dumb social rules that people seem to worship everywhere, taking little or no account of someone's true substance and character. To see people changing minds about what Autism does NOT change seems to me like a miracle.

Neurodivergent K said...

Yes, yes, I know, parents wept tears of inspiration and joy and the whole internet is full of that.

WHY can't you listen to actually disabled people? Is it that hard? This shouldn't be the exception here. If your heart was so warmed bc of patronizing faux-inclusion, that's some really low expectations you've got there.

The video was gross. It was exploitive. It was terrible. It was done for the glory and inspiration of allistic selfish douchecanoes. That is how it is. It shouldn't be inspiring. We should be included every day, not just when some asshat decides he wants to be a hero on the news.