Vol. 12 2021, pages 59–84
Published April 19, 2021
Paralympic athletes receive less media attention than Olympic athletes. Further, Olympic athletes are honoured for athletic achievements, whereas Paralympic athletes have been described as victims, suffering or heroic. Following researchers who have approached normativity and compulsory able-bodiedness in the light of hegemony and sub-hegemony, the current study explores whether sports media are sluggish when presenting athletes with disabilities, or if the picture is a more nuanced one. The context studied was the Norwegian Sports Awards (2001–2018). All introductions to the awards of the following categories were transcribed: Best male athlete, best female athlete, best Paralympian (2002–2012)/best male Paralympian and best female Paralympian (2013–2018). A six-step reflexive inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data (Braun & Clarke, 2019). The results indicated that the introduction of elite athletes with disabilities had some prominent hallmarks. Athletes with disabilities (‘they’) are different from those living without disabilities (‘us’). Athletes with disabilities are inspiring. Achievements of athletes with disabilities are placed in the shade, while disabilities are placed to the fore. An overall hegemony shows when best male and best female athlete are introduced: Female athletes are, to a large degree, described as developing and joked about in sexual manners, whereas male athletes are world-leading. This study provides the opportunity to learn from examples that balance the recognition of elite athletes with disabilities experiencing challenges in daily living with recognition of their athletic achievements. Thus, we suggest that this study adds nuance to the previous research within this context.
About the Authors
MARTE BENTZEN is an Associate Professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH), Department of Teacher Education and Outdoor studies. She lectures in Sport and Health Psychology and Adapted Physical Activity. She currently heads the Adapted Physical Activity program at NIH, where her research and teaching focus on the facilitation of activities related to adapted physical activity and health psychology. Other common features in Bentzen’s research have been how contextual characteristics influence individuals’ motivation and endeavours in contexts likes school, sport, work, psychiatric treatment, and rehabilitation.
KRISTIN VINDHOL EVENSEN is an Associate Professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Department of Teacher Education and Outdoor studies. Her professional background is within kindergarten pedagogy and special needs education where she has specialized in intellectual disabilities. She lectures in Adapted Physical Activity and in PE teacher education. In research, Evensen has investigated subjective embodied experiences of children with severe, multiple disabilities. She has also described how recognition of the expressive body in movement can be a means when securing human rights also for persons with severe intellectual disabilities. Evensen’s work has been conducted within a phenomenological perspective as well as in a social understanding of how hierarchies emerge.