We examined the landmark American television coverage of the 1996 Paralympic Games. Using a methodological framework developed by Duncan (1983, 1986) and drawing on critical concepts in the disability literature, we conducted a content analysis of the entire 4-hr prerecorded broadcast. Empowering and disempowering portrayals of athletes were identified. Some commentary contained many examples of stereotyping and positioned Paralympians as victims of misfortune, as different, as Other. Other commentary characterized Paralympians as “normal” and as no different from nondisabled athletes. The brevity of the coverage, the poor production values, and the absence of commentary about rules, strategies, and physical mastery suggested that the Paralympic Games were less than, not parallel to, the Olympics. A “hierarchy of (social) acceptability” was useful in explaining differences among the way Paralympic athletes were portrayed by television coverage.
Lea Ann “Beez” Schell is with the Department of Kinesiology and The Center for Research on Women’s Health at Texas Woman’s University–Denton, Box 424141, Denton, TX 76204. Margaret Carlisle Duncan is with the Department of Human Kinetics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201.