I received an article about Lance Allred last week. Lance is apparently the first ever deaf person to be offered an NBL contract in America. His contract was for ten days. I imagine he had ten days to prove himself. He didn’t and he was cut. I am not sure why he was cut. Perhaps he just did not make the grade. Perhaps his coach thought it was just all too hard to incorporate him. Apart highlighting that Allred is an obviously great basketballer Allred’s story reminded me, yet again, that we live in a world that is full of ignorant bigots.
Allred is famous in America for being the the centre of a discrimination scandal. His coach apparently lost it with him and in front of all his team mates and screamed that Allred was, ” Deaf, Dumb and a disgrace to all cripples.” His coach also called him “75% deaf” with no heart and accused him of using his deafness to take an easy ride.
His coach Rick Majerus, a well known and respected coach in the US, when confronted with his remarks said ” I honest to god don’t remember. I’m not even going to address it.” A wonderful case of selective memory. Amazingly after such a tirade his employer reacted to a discrimination complaint against him by saying that he had no case to answer. The defence being, “basketball often brings out the worst in him.”
Allred was also raised in a Polygamist cult. He would be used to discrimination and bigotry because when he was 5 he was told by a minister of his church that god had made him deaf because he had not been faithful in a previous life. Given that the cult believed that being faithful meant marrying whoever took your fancy this makes no sense at all. Given the obvious stresses of his life It is perhaps not surprising that Allred developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in his teenage years. It can only happen in America.
Sport seems to bring out the worst in the bigot. In my younger years as a talented soccer player, I was often left on the bench while less talented players played. I once came on with fifteen minutes to go and scored two goals. I missed a hat trick when my shot was frantically cleared off the line. I expected to be picked for a full game the next week. Instead i was dropped completely. The coach claiming that communication difficulties made it too much of a risk when we were chasing the title. I would have thought that goals would have helped the title chase, but there you go.
I was a less talented but ultra keen netballer. As a defender in mixed netball I was hard to pass. I often played with Deaf mixed netball teams. I was signing away to my mates one day and the opposition Goal Defence started to mock our signing. I yelled out to him that it was just as well he couldn’t understand us cos we were talking about him. The umpire had stern words with me and accused me of stirring up trouble. She demanded of me to, “Make sure you talk during the game, I want to know what you are saying” I told her to welcome to my world. I think the point was lost on her.
More seriously deaf Athlete Dean Barton-Smith nearly missed out on selection for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. This is despite the fact that he had met the qualifying standard not once but twice, was ranked number 1 in Australia, was ranked number three in the Commonwealth and top 20 in the world. Barton-Smith was initially told that he would not be selected because it was felt that he had little hope of finishing in the top 16 at the Olympics.
Barton-Smith was made to suffer enormous stress over a period of time and feared not being selected. This is despite meeting all the selection criteria. He has never really been clear as to why he was almost not selected. It was suggested that the Australian Olympic Committee had not expected him to qualify and had not budgeted on his selection. There was suggestions of politics and strained relations between the Australian Olympic Committee and Deaf Sports body over deaf attitudes towards the Paralympics. it is still a mystery to this day as to why he was nearly not selected.
Had Barton-Smith been a hearing athlete it is doubtful that he would have had any question marks placed over his selection. Imagine the best 100m sprinter in Australia, Top 3 in the Commonwealth and top 20 in the world being told he or she would not be selected for the team even though he or she had met all the qualifying requirements. It would not happen, selection would be automatic. Add deafness to the equation and suddenly people start finding excuses for non selection. Bizarre and disturbing.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that, “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye, The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract” This may well be so but as these stories show and as The Rebuttal’s recent article A Blast from the Past shows, bigotry and discrimination are never far from the surface. Sometimes the best we can do is simply laugh and ridicule the attitudes of the bigot as Dick Gregory did when he said, ” I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr stamp – Just think of all those white bigots licking the backside of a black man.” Laughing may well help us cope but the attitudes of the bigot can do us great damage. Unfortunately we have to be constantly on our toes.