Reader Ben alerts me to this story: A high school sophomore pitcher who can throw 80 MPH with a “wicked curve” gets cut from his high school team because he can’t field bunts all that well.
Oh, the fact that he happens to have two prosthetic legs may have something to do with it. And did I mention that the kid was a cover boy for an ESPN Magazine story about athletes with prosthetics? Yeah, this is a poop-storm, alright.
Where you come down on this probably correlates pretty nicely with where you believe high-pitched, winner-take-all competition in sports should begin. Is that on a varsity high school team? Earlier? Later? And the subject raises a host of other ethical questions:
- Should this kid’s teammates expect only the most able athletes to go into battle with them, or is pretty darn good but flawed good enough for high school baseball?
- Do we give this kid extra points for determination and courage that we wouldn’t give to an otherwise able-bodied pitcher who can’t field bunts because, hell, he just doesn’t have the reflexes?
- Is it somehow unfair to the other teams that shame will prevent them from laying down bunts if this kid were pitching when they’d certainly do it if, say, a fat kid were pitching?
I’m inclined, based on the information presented, to think the coach here is a jackass and that he should have found a way to keep the kid on the team. And that’s certainly the narrative that tends to get created in these situations. But I don’t pretend to have all of the answers on this stuff either. Any time you get into this subject there are unexpected advocates on either side.
There are disabled people who contend that any special treatment (i.e. letting the kid pitch even if he has trouble fielding his position) does the disabled person a disservice. There are likewise some people who can never look past the prosthetic legs no matter what the performance. There are also some people who will ignore the unintended consequences of either course of action because paying attention to such things doesn’t jibe with their world view.
Personally, I see any argument that is grounded in a belief that an ultra-high level of competition in high school baseball should be inviolate to be a rather pathetic one. But I’ll grant that it’s more complicated than saying “player good, coach bad!” and relying on the expected sympathies as well.