Thursday, May 10, 2018

Viva Greg Smith

Baseball reminds me of Greg Smith. In the 1990s, Greg created a cripple-themed, syndicated radio talk show called On a Roll. At its peak it was aired on 70 radio stations across the U.S.

In the early 2000s, I was his producer. We brainstormed about show topics and guests. Sometimes we went on the air together. It was big fun.

Greg was an enormous Chicago Cubs fan, even more so than me. One day we were talking about the hundreds of hours we’ve spent throughout our lives watching baseball on television. And Greg says, “When they show shots of the crowd, have you ever seen anybody in a wheelchair?” I didn’t have to think about that for long. The answer was no.

That was a keen observation on Greg’s part. I’m sure there are cripples at every major league ballgame. There have been others besides me at every game I’ve ever attended. So why did we never see them on television? The only explanation was that whoever decides which crowd shots make it on the air was consciously avoiding showing any cripples. What else could it be? I don’t think there was a memo from the baseball commissioner’s office stating, “Under no circumstances are you to show any cripples in your crowd shots.” No, it was more likely that there was a subconscious consensus among broadcasters that aesthetically-pleasing shots of fans having fun at the ballpark don’t include any cripples.

Greg wrote, “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!

“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.

“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.

“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?”

So Greg started an initiative called ADA Fan Cam. He asked crippled baseball fans to send him pictures of themselves at major league baseball games so he could use that to
pressure the brass at MLB headquarters to show crippled fans in the stands at games on July 26, 2015 and to have all broadcasters acknowledge that day as the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The good news is MLB acquiesced and on that day people watching games on television all over the country saw crippled fans in crowd shots and heard announcers honor the ADA.

Greg said, “This is a huge step. Now maybe it will be normal to see a fan with a disability once in a while during a ballgame.”

But the real bad news is that Greg died the following June, just a few months before the Cubs won the damn World Series! MLB broadcasts did not show crippled fans or commemorate the ADA on the next ADA anniversary day. And I’ve watched a lot of baseball games since then and haven’t seen a cripple in a crowd shot. Apparently the 2015 ADA celebration was all just tokenism.

So I guess in order to honor my buddy Greg’s legacy by being seen on television at a ballgame, I’m going to have to run out on the field naked. (Maybe I’ll wear the cap of the home team.) That seems like the only way to get the camera crews to stop ignoring me.

It won’t be easy. Any uncrippled mope only has to jump over the wall if they want to run out on the field. I can’t do that. So I’ll have to pretend like it’s a make-a-wish thing—my greatest fantasy is to circle the bases during the 7th inning stretch.

That way, security will escort me onto the field. I’ll need an accomplice—somebody to whip my clothes off me quick once I’m on the field. That person will probably be promptly arrested. Police often do that when I’m out protesting with other cripples. Instead of arresting us, they grab the closest vert (which is short for vertical, which is cripple slang for people who walk.)

But it’s all for a great cause. With his ADA Fan Cam Campaign, Greg got a lot of people thinking about cripples and who we are, even if just for a minute or two. Now it’s time to take it to a new level.

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