Will someone slap me in the face? Please? Will someone bring me back to reality?
Not tomorrow or next week, not after Hurricane Ike destroys my apartment in the upcoming 24 hours, not on Saturday when I find out, but now. Slap me back to reality.
Maybe I’ve been brainwashed; maybe I’ve been lied to. Or, maybe, but unlikely, I am just missing something. The first two seem the likeliest.This, the United States of America. This, the greatest, freest nation in the world. This, the superpower of the world, a leading power militarily, economically, communicationally, technologically, you name it.
And nowhere in it can I watch the Summer Paralympic Games.
Not on NBC, not on its subsidiaries, not online except for one event a night, that event usually being swimming or track. Nowhere.
You couldn’t watch Erin Popovich, the American swimming sensation who won seven gold medals in Athens in 2004. Those, in addition to the three from Sydney and four she has won so far in Beijing give her 14 gold medals, the same amount as Michael Phelps.
Popovich was born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that restricts the growth of her limbs. Does that make her any less deserving of our attention?
You couldn’t watch Jennifer Schuble, the American cyclist who won gold in the women’s 500 meter time trial.
Schuble suffered two traumatic brain injuries, one while in commission officer training at West Point in 1996. She picked up the sport after the 2004 Summer Paralympics, becoming the best in the world in an ungodly short time.
You couldn’t watch Jessica Long win two more gold medals to the three she won in Athens.
You couldn’t watch Jerome Singleton take the silver in the men’s 100 meter sprint.
You couldn’t watch the men’s goalball team stun top-seeded Slovakia in the quarterfinals, keeping alive longshot medal hopes in the sport designed for legally and totally blind persons.
If you were in Canada or Britain or China, or, well, any other major nation, you possibly could. You also probably would have heard when your athletes won.
The CBC in Canada is airing two hours of tape-delayed coverage on each of the four weekend days. It is also providing streaming video online.
The BBC in Great Britain is airing daily coverage, much of it live, both on air and online.
In the host China, up to ten hours a day of coverage is being broadcast on the state-owned television networks.
Yes, I know that NBC is not a state-owned network. I know it has to make a profit, and the Paralympics will not do much to aid that attempt. Yet, NBC could do something.
NBC could sell or give the rights to the Paralympics, the rights it owns exclusively, to ESPN or another entity that would air the games.
NBC could air the events in poor time slots on its subsidiaries.
NBC could stream the events online for subscription. They already have access to the official olympic feed, so why not allow people to view it online.
But NBC has done just as much as nothing. It has put one event online each night on universalsports.com. It has made arrangements to air on tape delay a few events, not now, but in October, on the satellite network Universal HD. It has agreed to air one two-hour segment on NBC in October comprising the entire games.
The entire Paralympic games, all 471 medal events, in one small segment. Boy, that works.
And as I’ve already said, I understand the economic reasons behind everything. I get it. But NBC could at least do something.
There is a reason the United States is behind China and Great Britain in the gold medal count. There is a reason the United States has won barely more total medals than the Ukraine or Spain.
Nobody here knows that they are going on.
Sure, you probably have heard of the Paralympics. At the very least, you should have heard of them. But did you know that they are currently going on, that they’ve been going on for the past week?
I doubt it.
If anyone televised it, whether it was NBC or ESPN or even a fringe network like Versus, you can bet people will pay attention. In a world with enough people crazed for sports, we’ll watch.
We’ll watch, that is, if it is on.
And if it is on, some little boy or girl who is handicapped, whether mentally or physically, whether genetically or through some accident – it does not matter – will watch and say, “I want to be the next Erin Popovich.”
The same little boys or girls who last month watched Michael Phelps and wanted to be the next him, even though they know in their hearts that it can never be.
It’s depressing to want something that you know you can never get, ever, no matter if everything goes your way.
And you can bet your behind that little kids in Canada and Great Britain and China have watched the Paralympics and become inspired to become a world champion.
The same world champion as Michael Phelps or Nastia Liukin or Serena and Venus Williams.
In the general scheme of it, there’s no real difference between Phelps and Popovich: both have won 14 gold medals and are the best short-distance swimmers in the world.
Well, let me retract that last statement.
There’s one real difference between the two: thanks to NBC, no one saw any of Popovich’s remarkable achievements. No little boy or girl is going to idolize her.
And trust me, they should. There are no better athletes in the world.
There are Olympic equals, but none that are better.