Playing Fair

BT Paralympic World Cup - Day Three

By: Connor Lenahan

I wish I didn’t have to bring up this unhappy topic, but it’s bothered me for a few hours now.

I experienced the extremes of competition within a few hours earlier this evening. While waiting to play intramural softball with my co-workers I decided to drop by the practice courts for our basketball team. I found a few of our female basketball players hanging around before they would be playing pickup ball. I proceeded to shoot around with my friends Sarah Hope and Courtney Latham, alternating between taking floaters in the paint like a point guard and throwing outlet passes for threes. I did all of this from my wheelchair. The understanding was clear from all parties; I was by far the least talented player in the gym, the only non-D1 athlete, but I was playing under a different set of rules. I have to play a modified version of sports to account for safety and ability that I can do from my chair. The great part of this is that Sarah, Courtney, and everyone else I interact with gets this without me making it clear. They adapt on the fly and everyone has fun.

When I did eventually play softball half an hour later I made adjustments once again. I played two innings at catcher which is safe as it’s a slow pitch league. Other than that I’m a designated hitter. I even have pinch runners so I never have to move from my stationary batting stance. This has worked quite well. I believe I hold a batting average north of .400 for the season.

What bothers me is that the pitcher from the other team was throwing the equivalent of a knuckleball to each player. A ball that, had I swung on would have caused me to fall over, was called a strike in my first at bat. I glared at the umpire. You mean to tell me you are really going to call a borderline strike that I clearly couldn’t safely hit? Then in my next at bat the pitcher threw two balls that dropped at my front foot – impossible to hit.

Now, I understand that this is actively a competition. I flew out the first at bat and struck out the second. That is not a problem. I get that entirely. But this isn’t for money. This is for fun. The fact that someone would throw two pitches to get me off balance when he could clearly see me wearing leg braces was borderline offensive.

I’m not asking for him to let me win. I’m asking the opposite. I’m asking for him to give me a fair shot.

If I played basketball against any of my friends that actually play it wouldn’t be fun. I am incapable of moving sideways. I am also 4′ tall in my wheelchair. Shooting over someone is impossible for me. I would get blocked on every possession with no way of creating an open shot. So what do they do? They agree not to play vertical defense as my 6′ difference from the hoop and inability to elevate for a jump shot more than takes care of it naturally. This makes the game fair and fun.

Throwing me junk pitches is in bad taste. It wasn’t just me taking it the wrong way either. This rubbed every member of my team the wrong way.

Again, I’m not asking for people to suddenly rig the games so I am the 5’3″ version of Mike Trout. No, I’m asking for fair play to allow me to try to be the 5’3″ Mike Trout.

And really, is that so much to ask for?

Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is a sophomore at Boston University, majoring in journalism.