We live in a time where many believe that no one should be excluded from something on any grounds. We strive to give everyone equal rights and equal opportunities, but even after years of fighting, there are still needs for change. For a long time, people considered being any race other than Caucasian a “disability.” It took years of fighting in the Civil Rights Movement to win the battle against racial inequality. The activism campaigns that supported this change are now focused on lobbying for the rights of women, disabled people, and homosexuals. These fights all have a common denominator: whether you have a literal or figurative disability, your rights and opportunities to do what you desire should not be restricted.
The struggles that are developing are taking center stage in the world of sports. In “The Playing Fields of Eton,” Mika LaVaque-Manty brings up multiple cases in which people have had to fight for their right to competition and equality, and overcome their disabilities. He first touches on the 1999 lawsuit in which nine wheelchair users sued the New York City Marathon after “alleging discrimination that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”
The plaintiffs were offended by the rules put in place by the organizers, which included making participants in wheelchairs stop to allow able-bodied runners to pass, and not actually giving them any prize for their success. The wheelchair participants simply wanted their own class, which eventually was given to them in 2000, once the case was closed. Making people in wheelchairs compete against runners simply does not make sense, as they require two separate sets of skills.
Additionally, he explains the how the creation and development of the Clydesdale division in running have caused a great deal of controversy. The purpose of the Clydesdale and Athena (the equivalent, but for women) divisions is to allow runners of heavier weights to compete in races where body size plays a key role in your levels of success, like triathlons. According to Dave McGinn of The Globe and Mail, “almost without exception, elite marathon runners stand 5-foot-7, give or take two inches, and weigh 140 pounds, plus or minus a few pounds,” so making runners that weigh over 50 pounds more is greatly minimizing their chances to compete on a similar level.
To combat this issue, racing organizations like the Chicago Area Runners Association offer males and females three different weight categories to choose from. Males in the Clydesdale division can choose the 180-199 pound, the 200-224 pound, or the 225+ pound category. Women in the Athena division can choose the 150-169 pound, or the 170+ pound category. It was unfair to expect runners with extra weight on their bodies to compete with people that have the definition of a “runner’s body”, just as it is unfair to further hinder the progress of wheelchair participants in races by making them wait for other competitors to pass them.
Both of these racing groups have faced some sort of disabling factor, whether that is a literal disability or just a hindrance to success, just as people outside of sports have. The newest human rights campaign to take the stage, which is developing in the midst of the resolutions of the wheelchair and Clydesdale debates, is the push for equal rights for homosexuals. The fight for gay rights continues to pick up across the country, and has even entered into the sports world. Chris Kluwe, the former punter for the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, was released in 2013 after Kluwe made several brash statements on gay rights and marriage opportunity for all couples.
Kluwe adamantly supported gay marriage, and even though he repeatedly he said his views did not reflect those of his team (as they asked him to do), he was cut and has since retired. Kluwe made numerous threats to file a lawsuit against the team, which said he was cut for purely professional reasons, for his wrongful release, after writing his article, but they have since reached a settlement which will require the Vikings organization to make five separate donations to various gay-rights charities.
The title of LaVaque-Manty’s chapter, “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” shows how numerous groups are being held back in life. However, justice can be brought to them, just as it was to the wheelchair racers and the heavier runners. Advocates for gay rights feel that homosexuals have been excluded from the opportunities that other groups have, and have not been given the chance for equality. To some, being a homosexual is a “disability” when it comes to getting married and living as they choose to, but many believe that it is a violation of human rights to set laws on who can or cannot be legally married.
Just as the disability of not being able to run or being too heavy held back race participants from many races, sexual preference has held back gay people from many other opportunities. Regardless of the barriers, people will still fight to include homosexuals in the conversation on marriage, and even though they are not fighting for their right to compete, they are fighting for the all-important right to equality.
The crossover between sports and social issues is undeniable. As explained by LaVaque-Manty, “sports can come within the purview of justice and … people can have a defensible right to meaningful competition,” just as they have a defensible right to anything they wish to be a part of (as long as it is legal). We strive to include everyone and exclude no one, especially in this time of inclusion. People like the nine wheelchair racers, the advocates for Clydesdale and Athena racing divisions, and Chris Kluwe will not stand by and let anyone be excluded from a basic right, and even though gay rights do not directly relate to sports like racing restrictions do, the parallels are clear: any restriction based on some sort of “disability” are unreasonable.