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As Long as We Remember...

June 10, 2011

Disrespecting Special Olympians

Joe Charlebois

The Special Olympics, which was born in the backyard of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Maryland home, is a thriving success nearly 50 years after starting as a novel summer camp for those with intellectual disabilities.


The organization – which now boasts of three million athletes competing across the globe representing 150 countries – has blossomed into a remarkable organization. It may be the single most important influence on the how those not affected by the personal experience of living with someone with intellectual disabilities view these athletes and non-athletes.


Eunice Shriver’s dream grew quickly. In 1968 in Chicago, IL, the first international “Special Olympics,” with 1,000 athletes competing, was held. In 1971, the United States Olympic Committee gave approval for the Special Olympics to officially use the name “Olympics.” In 1988, the International Olympic Committee endorsed and recognized the Special Olympics organization.


It is nearly two years since Ms. Shriver died, but her legacy and dream live on in the spirit of the athletes. If not for her efforts those with cognitive disabilities may be living in an entirely different society today.


Regrettably in Madison, WI, on Wednesday a celebration of these athletes, their supporters and volunteers was interrupted and tarnished by the act of a dozen or so leftist protesters. As the podium was turned over to Gov. Scott Walker to speak of the successes of Special Olympics in Wisconsin, a dozen “zombie” protestors marched back and forth before the podium before taking position in front of the first row of spectators, cutting off their view.


Although quiet, the protestors who stood side-by-side blocking the view for the athletes and supporters ended their demonstration with clenched fists raised in the air. This is the same symbolic raised fist that historically represents Marxist and communist fidelity.


Many of these protestors earlier in the day were arrested in the State Capitol for disturbance in a legislator’s office by staging a “die in.”


The protestors were there obviously to insult Governor Walker but instead ruined a beautiful day of celebration.


When questioned by local media regarding the disturbance, the Special Olympics spokesperson and official that are quoted in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article – were very kind and classy with their description of the protestors stating that "(n)othing was disruptive at all." and they “…were respectful of our athletes."


Although it was nice that the officials brushed aside the protest as “respectful” it was anything but. It was disrespectful to the speaker, and it was disrespectful to the athletes and supporters, who were unable to view the podium or take pictures of the event.


I can understand the organization wanting to give the protestors as little attention as possible and keeping the focus where it should be – on the athletes – but this display was too boorish and juvenile to go without comment. The protest did nothing to affect the governor, but it did take the shine off of a beautiful celebration.


The Special Olympians have a pledge. It is "Let me win; but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."


If only the opponents of Wisconsin’s new administration could take these words to heart.


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