Murderball

My children watched their first wheelchair rugby game last night, and it led to some challenging topics.  My husband mentioned that it used to be called murderball, and there’s a documentary highlighting the sport using that name.  Of course, they asked why the name was changed and why it’s original moniker sounded so aggressive.  It was hard to talk about the subject of wheelchair prejudice and disability discrimination with tact while also using words and concepts children would understand.  I don’t remember exactly how I worded it, but I basically said “People will watch something called murderball, but they won’t watch something with the name wheelchair in it.  They don’t think people who use wheelchairs are worth watching.”  I wish it wasn’t true, but it absolutely is.  Prejudice against those with disabilities is still a concept people struggle with identifying, because it’s built into our society.  When something has always been in your life, you know it’s there and you know it’s real, but you might not have the words to describe it.  Ableism is like that, and some people don’t even believe it exists.  People will say well-meaning statements like, “no one sees you that way”, or “they just don’t know how to act around someone like you”.  Both of these statements are flawed.  The former implies that if someone does see a person with a disability and acknowledges that disability may cause challenges is somehow wrong or unkind.  It is not unkind to recognize a legitimate truth.  For example, it is true that a person using a wheelchair may not be able to walk, but it isn’t reasonable to assume that person can not walk or that they can not get from point A to point B.  In other words, it is ok to talk about what a person can and can not do comfortably.  It is not ok to assume anything.  The assumption is the part that is unkind and wrong.  Talking about the disability and how it is part of a person’s life with that person is usually ok and preferred.  The latter statement is a form of othering.  Anytime “someone like you” is uttered, a person with a disability is being lumped into the giant category of “disabled”.  People with disabilities are not a monolith and suggesting they are all the same is hurtful and demeaning.  If the person with the disability others themself, they’re at liberty to do so.  It’s their body to talk about however they please.  Every person categorizes themself from time to time, but it’s not ok when other people do that for them.  I love wheelchair rugby.  The chairs are amazing, built to withstand direct contact, chair to chair and player to player.  It’s one of the coolest sports I’ve ever seen, but it upsets me as well.  Murderball is highly accessible in comparison to some other sports.  If a person was willing, people with and without full use of their legs could play wheelchair rugby together.  Do you know any adult who willingly adjusts how they access a physical game to play with those who may not be able to access that game in the traditional manner?  I don’t, and that’s where the bias lies.  Murderball is great, but more people should know what it is, who plays it, and be willing to play it with them.  We should be able to call it wheelchair rugby without people immediately turning the channel.  I wish people saw wheelchair rugby like my kids did yesterday.  They were fascinated by how fast the players moved and they pretended to have big arm muscles.  I had to play referee when I realized they were about to pretend to ram into each other’s imaginary wheelchairs.  They were appreciating those athletes, looking up to them, and imitating them just like they have with other athletes.  Now, I’ll just have to help my very inquisitive children not ask every stranger in a wheelchair if they’ve played murderball.      

3 thoughts on “Murderball

  1. We “played” something that we called Murderball in P.E. during Jr, High and High School. Ours consisted of everyone lining up along a wall, except for one of the biggest guys in the class, who stood about five or six yards away and was given a volleyball or soccer ball. The object of the game was for him to throw the ball as hard as he could and try to hit the dudes standing against the wall. Not too challenging. The rule was that he could only hit you below the waist, but that rule was often (read, always) ignored. The crotch and the head were very common targets. Ah, the good old days.

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  2. I loved this post, and never knew Wheelchair Rugby was called Murderball. It’s so funny how your boys were playing it and not even thinking of the disability. If one of them ever does stop a stranger in a wheelchair and ask them if they’ve played Murderball, will you please tell me about it? LOL!

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