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48 Responses

  1. Matt
    Matt February 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm |

    As regards the running thing, I had seen a story about it and wondered, how would people feel about a category where everyone has those prosthetics regardless of being disabled?

    In the case of Ohno’s special skates everyone is allowed skates that fit within a rigid ruleset. And also skating is a sport designed with parahuman gear in mind. Skates as opposed to running on ice or sliding on feet.

  2. konkonsn
    konkonsn February 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm |

    @Matt – But not every can have those prosthetics, or at least they all can’t wear them in the same way if you’re talking about runners with varying degrees of…leg-having-ness (sorry, I’m not sure what word conveys the right sense here). So there’s always going to be arguments about whose specialized equipment is helping whom better.

    But the other thing is that…at what point is it no longer specialized equipment? I mean, one of the reasons people seem to protest Mullins and Pistorius is because they believe their equipment is extra; since it’s not what they were born with, it’s not valid as a part of them. But it’s what they have to use to compete in a world designed for people with two legs.

    I mean, I take pills to function in the outside world (so, like, a semi-physical disability; in the sports world, I would be fine, right? as the article stated above. But I generally compete in the academic world, so…). And I’ve always hated that fact, that I need something extra to compete with my peers mentally. But if I changed my mindset to think of my medication as…me? Mine…like, they’re not extra, they’re the same shit everyone else has, just outside my body instead of inside, then I suddenly feel a lot better about taking them.

  3. Matt
    Matt February 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

    Consider something like chess in comparison. If you do not have the intellectual capacity to compete at chess then you aren’t able to compete at chess. If you get brain damage in an accident you cannot get a computer to allow you to retrieve those functions. You can take medications to reduce swelling and do memory recovery stuff. Now compare that to physical therapy.
    Getting a prosthetic is like getting a computer adding functions to your brain. We can’t do that yet, well we can in some special cases, but not commercially like we can with prosthetics. If we could do that, would you be allowed to play chess with computer aid? Prosthetics and computers are both machines.
    But if you get hurt in an accident and you do physical therapy or memory therapy you can still do competitive chess or sports.

    So I would say you can obviously use prosthetics in your job or social sphere, and the same for computer aids, like SH’s voice machine.
    But in competition it has a specific set of rules about what is acceptable.

  4. Li
    Li February 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm |

    Ugh, Matt, that comparison is bollocks. The appropriate comparison would actually be more towards psych meds which, yes, can improve capability in things like concentration and emotional regulation beyond what someone would otherwise be capable of. Both of those things, definitely important in chess.

  5. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers February 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm |

    I think that way about my medication. It upsets me very much that I have to take medication in that it *is* outside my body, and therefore I can be denied it… if the insurance refuses to pay, if I can’t afford it, if I left it behind by accident when I took a trip out of state, then my ability to stay awake and my will and ability to focus are jeopardized. But the medication itself is not the problem. The medication is what allows me to be me… me without meds isn’t me.

    (I’ve been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, “chronic hypersomnia”, which basically just means “Latin for you sleep too much”, and without my modafinil I can’t stay awake or cannot function at the alertness level of a normal person on the kind of sleep normal people can function on. I also take wellbutrin. I’ve been telling myself for years that it’s for fatigue… but no. Without it, I lose all ability to motivate myself to do anything — my drive drives off without me — and I feel not just tired but weary of existence. I’ve had to admit to myself, it’s for depression.)

    So… given that the person I know myself to be, the person with will, and drive, who can get shit done, and who can STAY AWAKE AFTER EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP instead of being a brain-dead zombie unless I get 10, is the person that I am on meds… it’s still part of me. My brain is simply failing to manufacture the proper chemicals that it ought to be making, that it used to make, and just because those chemicals affect the way I think and feel, that doesn’t make me any more “a defective person who needs meds to compete” than her need for manufactured insulin makes my diabetic mother “a defective person who needs meds to survive.”

    Now, the issue of the prosthetics possibly making an athlete super-human is tricky. Why would we allow prosthetics that offer a superior stride than the human foot in a race, when we don’t allow people to take hormones? But then, why don’t we allow people to take hormones? If I have the will and drive to compete, but my body doesn’t manufacture the steroid compounds that another person with less will to win and less technical skill has, that person will beat me, most of the time. Why’s *that* fair?

    What I’d really like is to see sports divided between natural and enhanced. In an enhanced league, the only rule is, you must be safe; your general physical health is monitored by certified physicians under league rules to make sure that whatever you’re doping with, it isn’t destroying your heart or your sanity. And under those circumstances, the person with the prosthetic foot is being measured for drive and technical skill and willingness to practice a lot against the person who takes steroids, and they’re thus more evenly matched.

    And then, on the third hand, if what you want to measure in sports is drive to achieve and technical talent, then isn’t any disabled athlete who manages to compete at all someone who is competing on a fair footing? They had to overcome such disadvantages to get out on the playing field in the first place, doesn’t that balance out the fact that their feet are scientifically optimized better for the task than human feet are?

    It’s a complicated issue. I’m not automatically willing to say “oh, prejudice against prosthetics that give you superior performance is ableism”… I mean, they’re also really, really anal about making sure that no one with XY genotype competes against XX genotype unless it’s a mixed-sex competition in the first place, because XY genotype is seen as giving an across-the-board physical advantage in the production of natural steroids, and one could make (and many have made) the argument that some XY genotype are actually *under*-steroided in comparison to XX genotype because androgen insensitivity syndrome is one of the reasons an XY would appear to be, and be initially allowed to compete with, XX’s, and XX’s have a lot more steroids that they can *use* than androgen-insensitive XY’s. And, there’s the fact that they won’t let people who take meds that have inadvertent beneficial side effects compete, either. (I probably would not be allowed in competition. Modafinil is considered a performance drug. I take it to stay awake, but others may dope with it. And would a 5 foot teenage boy taking HGH to gain height be disqualified from competition with much taller boys because he’s the one doping? I think he would.)

    The problem is that we’re trying to draw a hard line between “what you were born with, plus external devices that everyone is allowed to use” versus “what you are modifying yourself with”… but if what you were born with is woefully inadequate in comparison to what others were born with, and what you modified yourself with to match others’ abilities ends up giving you an advantage, then where do you draw the line between “compensation for disability” and “illegal performance improvement?” Personally I’d just rather throw out the whole question and allow modified people to compete against each other, with structural limitations to keep themselves from killing themselves to win. (But then, I’ve been known to call the NBA the “mutant league” and argue that the only true pro basketball is the WNBA because basketball was designed to be played by people of varied heights, in the high range of normal, not people who are 8 feet tall, and right now, men’s basketball is dominated by the incredibly tall and only women’s basketball is played by people within two standard deviations of average human height. I think if you’re going to force apples to apples by making people compete unenhanced, you really also ought to be making people compete in tightly controlled height/weight categories, in sports other than boxing/wrestling/martial arts where they do do that.)

    This issue exists across the board in society. I just went to a meeting today regarding my son. My son is a genius. He is also an albino, with the attendent vision problems normal to that condition; he also has ADHD; the school thinks he also has Asperger’s. His test scores range from way above grade level to just barely below grade level, which means there may be difficulty getting him support for his disabilities, as they aren’t keeping him below grade level… but he’s a genius, so he’s not supposed to be at grade level, he’s supposed to be above, and the fact that his disabilities can only drag him down to the same level as other children is going to be used to deny him support for those disabilities? Screw that. If you’re *supposed* to be better than average, but your disabilities make you merely average, I want you to get the same help for your disabilities that you would if you were average in the first place. Which, I guess, for consistency’s sake, means I have to support the prosthetic feet. It’s not like a disabled athlete with a prosthetic foot doesn’t have to practice and train just like an abled athlete with a human foot, and it’s not like Joe Schmoe the couch potato who plays Xbox all day is going to become a great athlete just because the foot he lost in an accident got replaced with a prosthetic. If a great athlete is born or becomes disabled, that doesn’t make them not a great athlete, so long as *something* allows them to get back in the game. So… okay. It’s complicated, but I think I come down on “prosthetic feet, let them compete.” Or, make a League for Enhanced Humans, because that would be awesome anyway.

  6. Matt
    Matt February 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm |

    No it wouldn’t be more appropriate. Unless prosthetics are used to treat genetic differences like psych meds are your comparison is not right.

    Taking adderall before a chess game could be comparable to steroids for a physically weak person.

    Concentration doesn’t help if you are just not capable of thinking in a certain way such as being well ahead and being able to track where chess pieces are in your virtual map as you plan ahead.

    I think we have already identified the fundamental disconnect though.

    My premise which makes my comparison apt to me is not a premise you can agree to. So I would not allow prosthetics and you may.

  7. Emolee
    Emolee February 2, 2012 at 3:07 pm |

    Question: Are the prosthethics that they wear to compete the same ones that they use day to day? Or are they specific to running? I am just curious. I fully support their competing with the prosthetics. I also think perhaps people who question whether the prosthetics give them any advantage overlook the possible disadvantages that they also may provide.

    It is unacceptable for a disabled body to be better at what it does than an abled body. It is even slightly uncomfortable when a disabled body manages to be “just as good”.

    This hit home for me. My mom is disabled, and the onset of her disabilty has been gradual. She now cannot walk and she is getting a motorized chair and a car with modifications for her chair to assist her mobility. (I acknowledge that we are very fortunate to do this… it is very expensive.) I am also disabled, though less severely than my mom. I can walk, but not for long distances. I also walk slowly and with pain. I am now in a situation where my mom, being “more” disabled than I, is getting an assistive device that will make it much easier for her to travel distances and travel without pain than I currently can. (Of course, there are other ways that navigating the world will be harder for her.)

    My point here is that I feel stuck in some sort of “in between,” where I am mobile enough to not need a wheelchair to get by and to do daily tasks, but with enough compromised mobility that I find myself not doing extra or fun things, and enough that I feel disadvantaged mobility-wise, sometimes even as compared with those people who are in wheelchairs. I, of course, do not think this is “unacceptable,” just thought-provoking.

  8. Sara
    Sara February 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm |

    It is important not to exclude people with disabilities on face. However, a competition in which some – but not all – of the competitors are permitted to use any given kind of equipment is worth examining more closely to see if it is fair. I don’t have much knowledge about carbon fiber prostheses, so I can’t say whether they are fair, but I can say at the very least that it seems like a reasonable question to ask, as long as people with feet aren’t permitted to use them.

    Olympic running events (and numerous other mainstream sports) were largely invented by and for people with feet, which does say something about the pervasiveness of unexamined ableism in our culture. New events can and should be invented with different assumptions about people’s body configurations. However, none of this changes the desire to keep the rules of any one contest (including equipment regulations) as consistent as possible across all competitors.

  9. Li
    Li February 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm |

    No it wouldn’t be more appropriate. Unless prosthetics are used to treat genetic differences like psych meds are your comparison is not right.

    Both prosthetics and psych medications are used to address impairments. There are many sources for those impairments. Are you seriously arguing that it’s relevant whether someone’s legs end under the knees because of injury or congenital abnormality? Whether someone’s depression is a result of genetic predisposition or a response to trauma?

  10. Li
    Li February 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm |

    Let’s also remember that able-bodied athletes are exposed to massive technological intervention. Is it really fair, for instance, that some competitors have access to institutionalised professional training and others do not? That there is a profound difference in the resources available to athletes from different countries? That some have access to sports scientists with massive amounts of funding?

    I mean, there’s a reason we don’t seem to find those things ‘unfair’ but do prostheses, or, for another example, intersex competitors. Despite the fact that elite athletes are definitionally abnormal, our sporting cultures tend to be very resistant to differences that occur along vectors of oppression.

  11. Jadey
    Jadey February 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |

    @ Alara Rogers

    I do like the idea of enhanced vs. non-enhanced! Appeals to the sci fi nerd in me.

    Of course, realistically in our present society, that could conceivably result in the “Enhanced” league getting more money and sponsorship and people being pressured to get (even safe) enhancements in order to compete at that level, etc. Part of the problem goes beyond what’s “fair” in sports and directly back into what’s wrong with how we reward and stratify people in society.

    Sometimes I think the solution might be to stop comparing athletes to each other and compare them only to their own records and achievements. A “within subjects” design rather than a “between subjects” design, so individual variation is controlled for. Because there is no fair playing field to begin with – some people will have genetic advantages, some people will have financial advantages, some people will have luck, some people will cheat. I do think that PWD being policed more because they have to take unconventional routes to maximizing their performance is bollocks, as the other commenters have noted.

  12. Li
    Li February 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm |

    The problem with natural vs enhanced is that able-bodied athletes are already enhanced, it’s just that we invisibilise those enhancements. The idea of the natural body is a construct (and a deeply political one), and you immediately have exactly the same issue in trying to draw a bright line that doesn’t exist.

  13. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin February 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm |

    This post reminds me of the story of the man who kicked the longest field goal in professional football history. It covered 63 yards. The kicker’s name was Tom Dempsey.

    Here, I will defer to Wikipedia. Dempsey was born without any toes on his right foot and no fingers on his right hand. He wore a modified shoe with a flattened and enlarged toe surface. This generated controversy about whether such a shoe gave a player an unfair advantage.

    To this day, the kick is still hotly debated, though scientific studies have asserted the advantage was negligible.

  14. Matt
    Matt February 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm |

    I have somewhat of a problem with athletic competition at all. Not like, don’t play sports, but just rewarding people for spending their whole lives at sports, and getting paid millions, while people who do things like chess don’t get much popular recognition or monetary compensation. Also people with productive jobs.
    I guess its like selling a product. Some products are just more useful to more people.

  15. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong February 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm |

    We’re guessing that he won’t be allowed to run all the way to the Olympics, because athletes with “perfect bodies” are terrified being shown up by someone whose natural body is imperfect, and whose prosthetics make him cybernetic.

    I don’t think it’s this simple, because a line has to be drawn somewhere and this doesn’t acknowledge that. It’s not a black and white, right and wrong question, it’s inherently subjective, because there are some physical prosthetics that I think would be manifestly unfair (and none of this is to say that there are no other sources of unfairness here).

    Where I’d start is that if the prosthetics are enabling athletes to replicate the functions of a human leg, wonderful, but if they’re providing a set of movements not available to a flesh-and-blood-leg, then that’s different (for example, if instead of running, a prosthetic is used to ‘bounce’ the athlete down the track, the way some high-quality artificial legs do). I’m an athlete- I box- and it’s easy to imagine someone with a prosthetic fist made out of steel and weighing a few pounds destroying the competition (though they’d have to be a good boxer as well). But if their artificial hand was within the bounds of what an organic hand could do, then not allowing them to compete would be wrong. As I’m sure someone will quickly point out, even that is an inherently subjective call, but so are all of these decisions.

    I really don’t think the only ethical response here is to always allow all forms of prosthetic enhancement, period.

  16. glove
    glove February 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm |

    Off-topic, but I’m surprised no-one’s asked why the female athlete appears in her underwear in the photo above, but the male athlete is fully-clothed. She’s got some seriously strap-thin panties on, and the picture is artistic (her hair is floating up, she’s posed very deliberately); he’s actually in motion, just launched out of the starting position.

    I wonder why you chose to use these two photos next to one another? It highlighted for me the way bodies, even athletic bodies, are represented differently according to gender in the media.

  17. karak
    karak February 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm |

    @Matt

    Uh, what? We’re talking about the Olympics here. High-level chess players, the .005% percent, do make cash off of their tournaments, and most Olympians don’t make nearly in the millions. Every once in a while a Michael Phelps or Nancy Kerrigan makes some money, but most of them make little to no money on their Olympic gold–winners have been known to sell their gold metals before.

    We’re not talking about pro baseball or football, here. And going off on a rant about how sports suck is kind of really rude in a post about people who have no legs but still feel the desire to run.

  18. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong February 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm |

    Matt- please define ‘productive’ for me. Are writers productive? Actors? Artists? Musicians? Poets? Comedians? Because professional athletes are doing the exact same thing- providing entertainment. The reason they get paid a lot is because a lot of people find professional sports entertaining, so for a lot of people, they are in fact producing something valuable.

    And, without getting too theoretical, it’s worth pointing out that dividing entertainment into ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ has been a favorite game of class warriors for centuries. I have very little patience with people who like to talk about the greatness of the Impressionists or the subtleties of TS. Eliot while mocking anyone who enjoys a game of football. It’s a stupid game, because it’s all subjective, and the value of any given piece of media is dependent entirely on the degree to which people want to view/listen to/taste/think about/feel it. It’s also classist as fuck.

  19. Matt
    Matt February 2, 2012 at 5:10 pm |

    18 Justamblingalong 2.2.2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Matt- please define ‘productive’ for me. Are writers productive? Actors? Artists? Musicians? Poets? Comedians? Because professional athletes are doing the exact same thing- providing entertainment. The reason they get paid a lot is because a lot of people find professional sports entertaining, so for a lot of people, they are in fact producing something valuable.

    And, without getting too theoretical, it’s worth pointing out that dividing entertainment into ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ has been a favorite game of class warriors for centuries. I have very little patience with people who like to talk about the greatness of the Impressionists or the subtleties of TS. Eliot while mocking anyone who enjoys a game of football. It’s a stupid game, because it’s all subjective, and the value of any given piece of media is dependent entirely on the degree to which people want to view/listen to/taste/think about/feel it. It’s also classist as fuck.

    I don’t divide entertainment into highbrow and lowbrow. I mostly listen to pop punk, hardcore, oi! and so forth. Hardly the domain of the higher classes. I also am a sandbox mmorpg fanboy which is the most underserved genre in online gaming.
    I think that the definition of productive is a highly interesting question.
    Whats more interesting is that you seem to be arguing for payment based on subjective valuation of product.
    In fact the majority of the money made by entertainers is a byproduct of computers and automation. That is you cannot just copy what a doctor does to a CD. Do you wonder whether doctors would make multimillion dollar salaries of you could get medical treatment for millions from one surgery like you can entertain millions from one football game?
    Entertainers are the possessors of a powerful built in privilege compared to professionals or service workers because their chosen career is reproducible in much the same way that technology companies, and manufacturing owners are privileged.
    In that sense its not the athletes that provide the service, its the music industry. Yet we get all pissy if athletes or musical or visual artists don’t get filthy rich.

  20. Revser
    Revser February 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

    Very thought-provoking. A question, though–was “Johnny Ohno” a misprint, or is this some skater I’ve never heard of? It seems like someone confused Apollo Ohno and Johnny Weir.

  21. laurie toby edison
    laurie toby edison February 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm |

    You’re right about how the photos look together. It was a result of the occasional down side of collaborative blogging. It happened because Debbie was thinking of the photographs on Sociological Images (linked to in blog) where both of their photos are similarly “hot” because of one of the points Sarah Wanenchak was making. I picked the Pistorius sports photo separately as a photographer wanting a movement shot, not thinking about the other photo at that moment. And then, since blogging tends to be done on deadline, published immediately.

  22. Debbie Notkin
    Debbie Notkin February 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm |

    Glove, that’s a terrific question!

    Laurie gave you one answer above, and I have an additional answer: Mullins is a professional model, and an amateur athlete, so the images of her that are available tend to be model’s images. Pistorius is also an amateur athlete, as he has to be to be in Olympic consideration, but running seems to be his primary interest. There’s certainly something fruitful to discuss about how more models are women and more full-time athletes are men, and at the same time, we think these pictures do reflect who these people are in their lives.

    At the same time, I think you’re right that the visuals reinforce stereotypes in ways that I wish they didn’t.

    Revser, you are 100% right. That was my mistake (Wanenchak had it right) and perhaps I was subconsciously thinking of Johnny Weir.

    Matt and all: thanks for the fascinating discussion; I don’t have anything to add at this time but I’m really glad to see these issues being addressed further.

  23. glove
    glove February 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm |

    Debbie and Laurie, thanks for your responses! Just thought it was an interesting outcome of putting the two photos together. Great post.

  24. Emolee
    Emolee February 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm |

    Where I’d start is that if the prosthetics are enabling athletes to replicate the functions of a human leg, wonderful, but if they’re providing a set of movements not available to a flesh-and-blood-leg, then that’s different

    What if they are providing some movements not available to a traditional leg, but also do not replicate all of the functions of a traditional leg? Meaning, they just work differently: they don’t have all of the abilities a traditional leg does, but do have some that a traditional leg does not.

  25. Emolee
    Emolee February 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm |

    I don’t have protheses, but it seems to me that even if the prosthetics had some sort of advantage over a traditional leg, it would also possibly be much harder to learn to run in them. For example, maybe they allow the athlete to bounce, but balancing with them on is more of a challenge than balancing would be to the same person without them. is it possible things could even out (as much as things ever do)?

  26. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong February 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm |

    Whats more interesting is that you seem to be arguing for payment based on subjective valuation of product.

    No, what I’m arguing is that there are millions of people who like watching football, which is why football players get paid millions of dollars. This is isn’t too complicated.

    You seem to be confusing ideological arguments with reality. Football players in the NFL make a ton of money because people like to watch them play football and not that many people can be pro football players. Supply, demand, meet price.

    Now, you claimed a) that being an athlete isn’t productive and b) they shouldn’t get paid as much as they do. I responded by asking you why you don’t consider entertainers productive if millions of people enjoy the services they provide, a question you avoided. I’m still interested in hearing your answer.

    In that sense its not the athletes that provide the service, its the music industry.

    What does the music industry have to do with football games, exactly?

    Yet we get all pissy if athletes or musical or visual artists don’t get filthy rich.

    You’re kidding, right? The vast majority of athletes never get rich, and the vast, vast majority of musicians never get signed. Being an actor or musician means taking a million-to-one gamble and waiting a lot of tables in the meantime. Same with spending your time playing hoops and hoping to make it to the NBA.

  27. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong February 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm |

    What if they are providing some movements not available to a traditional leg, but also do not replicate all of the functions of a traditional leg? Meaning, they just work differently: they don’t have all of the abilities a traditional leg does, but do have some that a traditional leg does not.

    I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. I see both sides really strongly and I haven’t been able to resolve my feelings; on the one hand, I absolutely cannot envisage telling disabled people they can’t compete, and on the other, I think it would be abusively unfair to have the 100 meter dash won by someone with a rocket engine strapped to their heels (I’m exaggerating, but hopefully the point is clear). I really, really don’t know, and I posted because I wanted to point out that this dilemma is a real, ethical, valid one, and not being totally convinced by one side doesn’t mean you are ablest or ‘terrified of imperfect bodies.’

  28. Sara
    Sara February 2, 2012 at 8:49 pm |

    Let’s also remember that able-bodied athletes are exposed to massive technological intervention. Is it really fair, for instance, that some competitors have access to institutionalised professional training and others do not? That there is a profound difference in the resources available to athletes from different countries? That some have access to sports scientists with massive amounts of funding?

    I mean, there’s a reason we don’t seem to find those things ‘unfair’ but do prostheses, or, for another example, intersex competitors. Despite the fact that elite athletes are definitionally abnormal, our sporting cultures tend to be very resistant to differences that occur along vectors of oppression.

    I agree that our perceptions of fairness are biased by, as you say, vectors of oppression. However, I still think this particular case is different from others. It may not be “fair” in some cosmic sense that some athletes have more money for specialized training than others, but the rules of the game do not regulate this difference. Even in cases where there may be other, uncontrollable differences between players, it still seems like a reasonable goal to try to make the rules the same for everybody. That’s why pointing out ableist reasoning in the discussion about carbon fiber prostheses is worthwhile, but isn’t the end of the discussion – there’s still an important issue to be resolved in determining how the rules can be written so that they are equally applicable to all players.

  29. LotusBen
    LotusBen February 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm |

    Even if prosthetics were to confer certain advantages over organic legs in some athletic contests, I still don’t see the problem. As Li pointed out, athletic competition is already completely unfair because some athletes have more money and resources available for training, equipment, etc. I think the important thing is just to make sure the in-competition rules are the same for everyone and that no one is discriminatorally excluded from entrance. If athletes without prosthetics are convinced that they would be better athletes with prosthetics, then they should be free to get surgery to replace their organic leg, arm, whatever with mechanical equipment.

  30. Li
    Li February 2, 2012 at 10:00 pm |

    It may not be “fair” in some cosmic sense that some athletes have more money for specialized training than others, but the rules of the game do not regulate this difference.

    The rules of the game also don’t really regulate prostheses. Nor would they have regulated someone’s intersex status until we started knowing about things like intersex. The rules of the game didn’t need to regulate specialised training for large portions of Olympic history because most athletes were at best semi-professional. Both times and rules change.

    This discussion is starting to remind me of the Caster Semenaya arguments where people insisted that we measure the issue based on the hypothetical in which a horde of super-masculine intersex women took over women’s sport and cis women were no longer represented at all. I mean, the rocket legs hyperbole? People get how obnoxious that is, right?

    The thing about ‘advantage’ is that even if we figured out that prostheses conferred no advantage whatsoever (though this is also impossible to measure since human calves and feet =/= all the same), the moment an athlete using them started winning people would complain about them. There is precisely no way that a disabled athlete would be allowed to win over an abled one without people presuming that the competition must be unfair.

  31. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong February 2, 2012 at 11:32 pm |

    I mean, the rocket legs hyperbole? People get how obnoxious that is, right?

    No, actually. Because the point is that since we can (hopefully) all agree that there is some far-out there, admittedly hyperbolic degree of prosthetic advantage that would be unfair, then the question is a matter of degrees, rather than simply black and white, tolerant vs. ablest.

    So if you find it obnoxious, fine, address a different point, but the point itself stands.

  32. Shoshie
    Shoshie February 3, 2012 at 12:08 am |

    Nor would they have regulated someone’s intersex status until we started knowing about things like intersex.

    Just so we’re all on the same page, we’ve known about things like intersex for millenia. It shows up in my Mishna text, which was compiled around 220 CE. The fact that people who are intersex were ignored or restricted from access is not because we weren’t aware, it’s because of oppression.

    Not saying that that’s what you were implying, Li. I agreed with the main point of your comment, and just wanted to clarify this piece.

  33. thinksnake
    thinksnake February 3, 2012 at 12:18 am |

    This is a conversation about real people with disabilities. Can we not turn it into a discussion of radical posthumanism? Cause that’s just a little bit ableist.

  34. Li
    Li February 3, 2012 at 12:25 am |

    Just so we’re all on the same page, we’ve known about things like intersex for millenia. It shows up in my Mishna text, which was compiled around 220 CE. The fact that people who are intersex were ignored or restricted from access is not because we weren’t aware, it’s because of oppression.

    Let me rephrase that as “since we’ve known that some phenotypically female women may be intersex and have been able to identify them medically”.

  35. konkonsn
    konkonsn February 3, 2012 at 1:03 am |

    So… given that the person I know myself to be, the person with will, and drive, who can get shit done, and who can STAY AWAKE AFTER EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP instead of being a brain-dead zombie unless I get 10, is the person that I am on meds… it’s still part of me. My brain is simply failing to manufacture the proper chemicals that it ought to be making, that it used to make, and just because those chemicals affect the way I think and feel, that doesn’t make me any more “a defective person who needs meds to compete” than her need for manufactured insulin makes my diabetic mother “a defective person who needs meds to survive.”

    Yeah. What I posted up there, see, was basically my realization towards this way of thinking. I literally had never thought of my medication as a part of my body before. It was always just that thing that made me “normal.” And as such, I’ve been bad about taking it sometimes because I desperately want to be able to live without it (it’s not helped by the doctors who go 0_0 when they hear how long I’ve been on it. “Have you tried weaning yourself off?”). I feel kinda better about it, now.

    The problem with natural vs enhanced is that able-bodied athletes are already enhanced, it’s just that we invisibilise those enhancements. The idea of the natural body is a construct (and a deeply political one), and you immediately have exactly the same issue in trying to draw a bright line that doesn’t exist.

    This is what I was trying to get at in my first post. Thanks for putting it so much better.

  36. im
    im February 3, 2012 at 1:32 am |

    In the case of the curved spring-blade prosthetics used by Oscar Pistoris, I think that since they extend downward and curve forward one can attach them to heavy boots and use them even if one has normal lower legs. I remember such a system being used to allow people to compare their natural legs to the artificial ones.

    Because of a lack of lifelong practice, people tended not to do very well.

    How would this discussion change if a technology existed to let people regrow (or grow in the first place despite birth defects) biological limbs?

  37. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated February 3, 2012 at 8:58 am |

    Many able-bodied people tend to have a limited continuum of emotional response toward disabled or disfigured people ranging from pity through disgust and hatred. I ‘d factor that into the resistance against prostheses.
    These athletes fight phantom pain, bleeding scar tissue, and other physical issues not faced by non-amputees. Yes, these athletes are ahead of the ableist pack, but most amputees aren’t. The competition sounds like a schoolyard clique whining “it’s not fair”. When they start trading healthy limbs for prosthetic, then worry about it.

  38. Tei Tetua
    Tei Tetua February 3, 2012 at 9:41 am |

    I’m full of admiration for these people and the technology they use, but athletes generally aren’t allowed to run on springs, even if the springs sort of look like feet. This goes beyond just having super-duper running shoes.

    Speaking of “nudity below the fold”, why is the woman wearing so much less clothing than the man?

  39. amy
    amy February 3, 2012 at 11:01 am |

    I feel like I’m having a hard time thinking about this without centering it around able-bodied athletes. What if the “real” games are not the Olympics, but the Paralympics? Do Paralympic officials feel that Pistorius has unfair advantages? Do the athletes feel like it’s fair to run against him, or are they just as happy to see him trying to go off to some other competition? It must come up all the time that people don’t have exactly the same mods, do one-prosthesis runners run against two-prosthesis runners? I really don’t know anything about this, except a vague notion that the Paralympics tries to group people with similar functioning, by which if Pistorius is running races at Olympic-level times, the Olympics are the logical place for him?

  40. thinksnake
    thinksnake February 3, 2012 at 11:11 am |

    Just a note that there is also the Deaflympics, for the Deaf community. Athletes at the Deaflympics are encouraged to try out for the Olympics as well whenever they can.

  41. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage February 3, 2012 at 11:19 am |

    Thought that just popped into my head – are people who wear vision correction devices (ie. glasses) banned from competitions where visual acuity is necessary for successful participation? Hey, the correction may result in a given individual having slightly sharper-than-normal acuity – isn’t that what the ableists are losing their shit about? How is that any different from a runner who would normally have poor or no upright motive capability using an aid to achieve that capability at all? Have they actually been tested in experimental conditions against runners with biologically complete legs to test for significant advantage, or are ableists just throwing a shitfit here? Heck, you still need to be able to make the rest of your body operate in a running motion, your lungs and heart still need to be able to operate at the necessary efficiency, your existing muscles still need to tense and relax at the necessary speed…

  42. Pseudonym
    Pseudonym February 4, 2012 at 2:33 am |

    Aren’t the rules guiding athletic competitions inherently rather arbitrary? When it comes to being helped by modern technology in a race, at one end of the spectrum we could require everyone to run barefoot and naked on a grassy meadow, and at the other end we could let people pilot rocket planes. In fact I’m sure there have been competitions for both of those situations. We have separate competitions for women and for men, which one could argue is a rather arbitrary and poorly-defined distinction. There are often separate competitions for different age groups, or for professionals or amateurs, or even for people at different skill levels.

    It is unacceptable for a disabled body to be better at what it does than an abled body. It is even slightly uncomfortable when a disabled body manages to be “just as good”.

    Is this true outside of athletic competitions? If someone with 20/80 vision puts on glasses or gets laser surgery and has 20/15 vision as a result, is that unacceptable to someone with 20/20 vision? That’s not a very good example, but I’m honestly not sure how widely that statement applies outside of arbitrary competitions.

  43. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong February 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm |

    Thought that just popped into my head – are people who wear vision correction devices (ie. glasses) banned from competitions where visual acuity is necessary for successful participation?

    No, but someone with a telescope strapped to their eye probably can’t compete in marksmanship. I would be happy to box against someone with prosthetic hands, but if they were made out of titanium and weighed twice as much as anyone else’s, I’d probably file a complaint. Isn’t there room for reasonable middle grounds here, not just dogmatic all-prosthetics-no-matter-what or no-none-never?

  44. Bruce From Missouri
    Bruce From Missouri February 4, 2012 at 11:48 pm |

    The argument, which I basically agree with, is that Pistorius’s prostheses are “Flubber” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flubber_%28film%29 .

    I think that’s a pretty fair argument. An equally fair argument would be to say that running on spring-loaded pieces of metal and running on shoes are two entirely different sports. I imagine that if you gave Usain Bolt a year or two to practice on springs, he could probably do amazing things to the record book.

    Would you argue that wheelchair marathoners and running marathoners are doing the same sport?

    If you are saying that covering the distance in anyway you choose is “running” I’ll just reductio this argument to it’s natural absurdium and hop in my car.

  45. Li
    Li February 5, 2012 at 7:44 am |

    Gosh. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a post about difference in sports where the comments focused on the structural issues raised and not whether or not disabled/intersex athletes are cheaty cheat cheats?

  46. matlun
    matlun February 5, 2012 at 9:07 am |

    Gosh. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a post about difference in sports where the comments focused on the structural issues raised and not whether or not disabled/intersex athletes are cheaty cheat cheats?

    What “structural issues” in sports are you thinking about that is not about whether disabled athletes should be allowed to compete? (Because that is what the discussion in this thread has focused on)

    That many posts disagree with the arguments made in the OP does not mean that they are off topic. It does not even mean that they are wrong. (Personally I find the arguments in the OP very unconvincing indeed…)

  47. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage February 5, 2012 at 9:58 am |

    @43 + 44

    Hence my question about whether any actual testing has been done to determine if the prosthetics consistently confer an extra forward velocity advantage in carrying out the running motion, or whether the able-bodied people complaining somehow think running has to be “easier” for someone with prosthetics, it just *has* to be…

  48. Bruce From Missouri
    Bruce From Missouri February 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm |

    I don’t think think they are actually that worried about Pistorious, as he is not real threat to the top runners. They are worried about the precedent. If Usain Bolt lost both his lower legs in a car accident, and came back 2 years later shattering his world records on spring-loaded prosthetics, that would be a real problem.

    Besides, like I said before, different equipment makes different sports. Now that I have had a little time to think about it, I have better examples:
    When Inline skates became popular, Roller Speedskating split into two sports, “Four wheelers” and Inliners.

    In the summer X games, roller skaters, skateboarders, and bicyclists all compete on the half-pipe, but each in their own category. Same with snowboarders and Skiers in the Winter X Games.

    If Pistorius wants to race wearing a prosthetic that mimics the human leg, I would support his efforts, but that is not what he is doing.

    Amputees have participated in sports like wrestling for years, but not with prosthetics that I know of, and certainly not purpose-built prosthetics.

    Jim Abbot pitched a no-hitter in 1993 for the New York Yankees even though he was born without a right hand and did not use a prosthetic.

    Pete Gray played for the St. Louis Browns baseball team in 1945 even though he lost his dominant right arm in a childhood accident. He did not use a prosthetic either.

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