Disabled or Supercrip?.. How about you call me an “Athlete”

Are media sources motives to empower the Paralympics or are they under-representing not only the athletes in games, but the athletes not in them as well?

“Disabled: physically or mentally impaired, injured, or incapacitated” (“Disabled”).  I found this definition just on dictionary.com and thought it would be a good way to start off explaining my research question.  It isn’t a secret that the media puts a lot of effort into exposing and praising people who are “disabled” and challenging our society’s hegemony towards able-bodied athletes.  Media coverage for athletics are placed out there to make a profit and to expose individuals or teams that have performed above the average or bell curve that distinguishes top athletes from the rest.

For my first source I chose, “The ‘Supercrip’ in sport media: Wheelchair Athletes Discuss Hegemony’s Disabled Hero” written by Marie and Brent Hardin.  This article recognizes how the media portrays people who have been placed specifically in wheelchairs and who pursue a career or lifestyle in athletics.  The problem that this article touches on is that the media puts such emphasis on the athletes that have excelled and beat the cultural norms.  In the article it says, “Scholars contend that mass media inculcate individuals with values and beliefs essential to institutional structures in society by adopting dominant assumptions and framing content within them” (Hardin).  This article describes how although the media has increased it’s viewing and air times revolving around the disabled part of the person not the athlete or how although these articles about these athletes may be moving, they are also diminishing the person as well.  This part in the article is something I have always agreed with because I do agree that these men and women’s accomplishments are astonishing, I don’t think labeling them as ‘supercrip’ or ‘freaks of nature’ do justice in the long run for both disabled athlete and the disabled non-athlete.  I believe this article does a good job describing the feelings of those who are disable and how this portrayal in the media can be negatively reflective on their lives that if they aren’t able to do what these ‘front page heroes’ are doing, that they aren’t living up to this new standard or excellence overcoming and challenging their odds.  This article also says, “The supercrip model promotes ableism.  Ableism is the oppression of people with disabilities, placing them at the bottom of a hegemonic ally defined social hierarchy where a higher value is put on ‘normal’ bodies that are part of the working majority” (Hardin).  This to me was the highlight of their article and was a perfect summary of how the elevated image of ‘supercrip’ may to a certain extent be a positive and motivational outlook for individuals, but how the norm is still there but in the sense that the norm is still not being or won’t be met.

I watched a TED talk by Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins who described how her experience as a double amputee with prosthetics has been a blessing in her life.  She mentioned how the most difficult thing about being an individual with prosthetics is “…having the objective medical fact of being an amputee and the subjective society that calls her disabled and overcoming being called those definitions..” (Mullins, TED Talks).  This leads me to an article called, “Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change” by Charles Riley where his discussion directly goes through history of the media’s presence has been favored and disliked at the same time for what they produce.  I found an invoking sentence that said, “One of the reasons the representation of people with disabilities in the press is such a fascinating problem is due to the complexities posed by this question of identity” (Riley, 19).  This relates to what I believe Aimee Mullins was trying to argue is that, YES we are given obstacles in life that others may never encounter, but that doesn’t give dictionary.com to label me as disabled because in her eyes, she is a fully abled woman who not only competes as an athlete, but models, and as an acting career.  This article discusses the counteracting of a voice like Mullins by using a term, “passing” that means to pretend to be non-disabled, which I don’t believe is the case; I think that they have accepted that their path may involve sometimes more complicated situations, but I think it comes down to more of a way to be proud and living out their lives to be exactly what they want it to be.  In Mullins TED talk she mentioned if someone had asked her when she was a little girl if she could trade in her legs would she but if she were asked now, her answer would be totally different.  She feels thankful for what her legs have given her and the experience she has taken as led her to her happy and fulfilled life today.

Aimee Mullins is someone I wasn’t aware of until researching this project, but she has opened up my eyes and helped give me amazing examples and lessons that are evidence to my case.  These men and women who we see on the cover of magazines as we near the Paralympics, are yes impaired when comparing the 4 out of 5 people in our world who aren’t disabled (Hardin).  I believe my research has given me a lot of information on how athletes who are represented by these terms, ‘supercrip’ or ‘freaks of nature,’ have been more offended rather than happy with their descriptions.  I would like to believe that journalists have good intentions to show these athletes and their journey to make it to the Paralympics, but I believe it is favoring the hegemonic idea our society has when it comes to disabled sport and to be involved you must mean greatness.  Through my research, I have come to the conclusion and realization that although many people chose to involve themselves in competing athletically, there are many people who don’t and that doesn’t mean they couldn’t adapt to the diversity they faced, they resumed living their lives maybe in other aspects.  These magazine cover ‘supercrips’ are amazing I will admit, but I think these articles help justify that any one person who survives and continues living with a wheelchair, prosthetics, or any other physical/mental impairment, have accomplished just as much they just didn’t get the front cover of the magazine.


photo: Aimee Mullins


“Disabled.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Hardin, Marie, and Brent Hardin. “The ‘Supercrip’ in Sport Media: Wheelchair Athletes Discuss Hegemony’s Disabled Hero.” Sosol. School of Physical Education, University of Otago, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Mullins, Aimee. “Aimee Mullins: The Opportunity of Adversity.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TED Conferences, Feb. 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Riley, Charles A. Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change. Hanover, NH: University of New England, 2005. Scholar Google. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

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3 Responses to Disabled or Supercrip?.. How about you call me an “Athlete”

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    I really like the quotation about ableism that you pulled out of the first article. it’s a great piece to use as your project continues. I want to bring up a tension in your sources, though. Aimee Mullins could be argued to be exactly the sort of “exceptional” individual that the supecrip references. I agree that she is a remarkable figure who reframes how we think about bodily ability, but must we also consider her in conversation with the critique of the supercrip? Must we ask ourselves why she gets such a large amount of media coverage and consider what that does to the larger community? I have another source you might consider adding, since the TED talk does not count as a scholarly source (though it is a great site of evidence). Keep up the good work!

  2. jmaucsd says:

    On Google Scholar I found a book that information on the idea of a supercrip and how many of these athletes are a disability exceptionalism. The book defines disabled exceptionalism as the “.. view that living with a severe impairment may well be preferable to living without it because the disabled experience provides one with special talents, strengths, and insights denied to those with out impairments” (Bickenbach, 184). I see what you mean by Aimee Mullins being someone who could be categorized underneath this idea of her disabilities. When I first started researching her, I was astonished by all of the photos that went with her biography online and until I really understood this term, I was much more ‘wowed’ by it all. I went back and looked at her TED talk and I saw more of this praise she exclaimed of how she wouldn’t change it for anything. This book also goes to talk about how, “…a conflict between the reported happiness of persons with disabilities and the expected or anticipated levels of happiness assessed by others..” (Bickenbach, 180). This made me think about people with disabilities and how this ‘supercrip’ image in a sense creates an expectation that isn’t desired by everyone. Many people with disabilities who have either been born with their impairment or those that have recently acquired it, have come to terms with their happiness. They don’t feel the need to reach for fame or become a ‘supercrip’ but just be happy in the body that they are living in. In this book it says, “..other disruptive life events- divorce, illness or death of a spouse or child…will also impact one’s happiness…like everyone else, persons with disabilities are vulnerable to changes in their world…” (Bickenbach, 189). I think this quote does a good job balancing out the ‘supercrip’ image of overcoming hardships without diminishing their life long disability.

    Bickenbach, Jerome E. “Disability and the Well-Being Agenda.” Disability and the Good Human Life (2013): 168.a

  3. Sarah McCullough says:

    Great addition! I look forward to seeing how your ideas progress.

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