By Greg Smith
Baseball TV Broadcasters to Acknowledge Fans with Disabilities on OUR day, the 25th Anniversary of the ADA!
“ADA Fan Cam” is a grassroots initiative to create awareness about the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th Anniversary. The goal: a mention of ADA during all Major League Baseball telecasts, with cameras including fans with disabilities and announcers acknowledging the day.
It is gaining momentum. The Arizona Diamondbacks are definitely participating, and hopefully, after one key phone call to Park Avenue, scheduled Monday, many more teams will follow along. I’m more excited about this than most of the work I’ve ever done, but you may wonder: Why is this important in the full scheme of things?
The answer goes beyond baseball and back to the early 1950s. My parents have shared with me their reflection on a day when televisions were “black & white,” but that phrase didn’t represent the people “inside” the box. When the first black people came on television, it was a big deal!
“Ma! Dad! Come see! There’s black people on TV!”
Families rushed to gather around the tiny, blurry picture in festive mode. It was a great thrill for them to see people who looked like them represented for the nation to see. Television became a major catalyst that paved the way to the explosion of African American culture’s current status as a vital part of pop culture.
Today, people with disabilities have little impact on pop culture. We have talented musicians, actors, artists, athletes, writers, dancers, but how many pop stars with disabilities can you name? How many who were not already stars before they acquired their disabilities? Others ascended to a “semi-star” status after public compassion over the “tragedy” of becoming disabled heralded them into the spotlight, but never to the level of “full stardom.”
In order for people with disabilities to develop the social confidence to reach our full potential and put our spin on pop culture, we need to be seen on television. That’s a prerequisite first step.
What does this have to do with baseball?
The “ADA Fan Cam” has the potential to serve as a sign that America is maturing socially. I have been watching baseball on TV my whole life and I have NEVER seen one television shot of a fan with a discernible disability. In the thousands of hours of camera shots of fans at ballgames I’ve watched, I haven’t seen one.
I’m sure most directors never thought about it. And I’m also sure that raising public awareness about social issues is not their job. Covering the game is. This is not a criticism of baseball or baseball broadcasters. This is the presentation of an opportunity to make a historical difference, respectfully submitted by equals whose opinion and input deserve to be heard, respected and considered.
This week, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA and the civil rights that law has given us. And yes, we should party hard. But we need to realize there is no building code in the language that forces the removal of attitudinal barriers, stigmas, devaluing prejudices and antiquated beliefs about people who happen to have disabilities.
Are we not shown on TV because we’re too repulsive? Ugly? Deformed? Misshapen? Depressing to non-disabled viewers? Would we make people grab their remotes and turn the station? Before remotes, I’m sure some people got up from their “Lazy Boys” to turn when a black face came on television. But we’ve moved on.
The “ADA Fan Cam” concept would not fit any other sport or any other televised public gathering. But it fits baseball like a catcher’s mitt. Baseball is “America’s Favorite Pastime.” It is a four-hour gathering of the common man, where everyone is in their summer clothes, eating hot dogs, cotton candy, peanuts and Cracker Jacks while rooting for the home team. The pace of the game is slow enough for television to do a masterful job of capturing the universal experience of being there. In each broadcast, leading into innings and during stoppages in play, dozens of fans are shown in seemingly random cutaways and close ups. But never us.
If television can accept and honor Caitlyn Jenner, proudly display a rainbow colored White House (reported by openly gay news anchors and reporters) and gather at the steps of a state capitol, focusing the eyes of the world on the lowering of a flag of injustice, surely it can listen to the voices of it’s largest minority group for one day. Surely it can show us in our Sunday best as we celebrate OUR day.
The community of people with disabilities is extremely happy about the accomplishments of the LGBT community, the African American community, the Hispanic, Asian, Native American… all our communities. Because we are you. We are among all communities. And you are a part of our community because at any moment, you could be welcomed into our midst.
We are following you in the batting order. A successful “ADA Fan Cam” on July 26th would be a solid base hit. If all teams participate, it will be a towering home run! So please root for OUR team and look for us between innings as you enjoy a Sunday afternoon watching baseball on TV.
Visit the ADA Fan Cam Facebook Page: www.Facebook.com/ADAFanCam
NOTE: People in wheelchairs are a very small fraction of the people whose civil rights are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. To learn more about invisible disabilities, visit http://invisibledisabilities.org/