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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Football and the Dilemma of Difference

When does treating people differently emphasize their differences and stigmatize or hinder them on that basis? and when does treating people the same become insensitive to their difference and likely to stigmatize or hinder them on that basis?
The Newark Star-Ledger reports on a recent case of  this dilemma:
Anthony Starego, the autistic placekicker who kicked a game winner for Brick High last fall and became a national story, was denied another year of eligibility by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s eligibility appeals committee, his father said Wednesday.
Starego was ineligible under NJSIAA rules that prohibit athletes from participating for more than eight consecutive semesters and after they turn 19. But his father Ray Starego had appealed because playing football had not only helped his son’s development, but could serve as inspiration to others with autism.
“They said, regardless of his story, they had to treat him like he was any other kid,” Starego said. “So in other words, his development meant absolutely nothing. And I think that’s probably the scariest thing at all, because they ignore all of that and gave that no weight. And that’s the whole point.”
NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko, in a statement Wednesday night, said that the committee grappled with Anthony Starego's story but decided that it would be unfair to allow him an opportunity to participate in sports that other students, disabled or otherwise, could not receive.
"This young man brings a high degree of skill to the game," the statement reads. "He is a physically mature young man with college-level kicking skills. He is a strong competitor and a difference-maker. His participation gives the school an advantage against other teams.
"In the end, the committee determined that, among other things, the student did not qualify for a waiver because he has already played four years, he's a difference-maker on the field, and would displace another student on the team."