Iceland no longer need trouble itself with a joyful Special Olympics


National Post, 19 July 2018

Iceland declared that it had almost completely eliminated Down syndrome. Not the syndrome exactly, but those diagnosed with it

On July 20th, 1968, less than two months after the assassination of her brother Bobby in Los Angeles, Eunice Kennedy Shriver — whose character was far more noble than her famous brothers JFK, RFK and Teddy — held the first Special Olympics at Soldier Field in Chicago. Amidst all the triumphant and tawdry matters of the Kennedy clan, the Special Olympics was the great shining moment.

Few did more than Eunice Shriver to improve the lot of those with intellectual disabilities — the “mentally retarded” in the parlance of the day. With the Paralympics today and the Invictus Games for those wounded in war, it is no longer remarkable that there be athletic contests for those physically disabled. But 50 years ago the idea that competition could be a showcase those considered uncompetitive was a radical idea. Even today, the Special Olympics remains singular in highlighting the “ability” of those with an intellectual dis-“ability.”

Recently I was giving an academic paper in Minneapolis-St. Paul while the Minnesota Special Olympics was being held on campus. There was more tangible joy mingling amongst the Special Olympians than there was to be found amongst my academic colleagues, convivial as they were. None of them wanted to give me a spontaneous hug.

Eunice, like her brothers, was good at sports and enjoyed competition. She saw that sports could be a common enterprise, a source of unity and inclusion. With the experience of her sister Rosemary as motivation to make life better for those with intellectual disabilities, Eunice was courageous in bringing them out of the shadows.

She wrote a landmark article in 1962 — while JFK was president — in The Saturday Evening Post in which she put the matter starkly: “Rosemary was mentally retarded.”

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