Pistorius reaction not about handicap

16:00, Feb 20 2013

Alright, stop it - it's getting too weird, this Oscar Pistorius story. A double-amputee sprinter, the first Paralympian to compete at the Olympics; a man now charged with the premeditated shooting and killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. And what are we discussing? Whether Pistorius is just another example of how we over-inflate the virtues of our sports stars. Effectively, whether we should be as shocked as we are.

Good grief. It was bad enough to hear folk plying this line a few days ago. But the latest round of amateur psychology is even more contrived: that our horrified reaction is actually discriminating against people with disabilities; that we're more shocked because the alleged perpetrator is a double amputee. Apparently, because we're conditioned to think the best of people with disabilities, our sense of dismay is disproportionately greater when they err.

Have read some ludicrous reasoning in my time. But this? This is right up there. The Dominion Post ran a column earlier in the week from a bloke who was evidently serious about it. "The world was stunned, wrote William Saletan, as if it shouldn't have been. "Other athletes have committed violent crimes but Pistorius was supposed to be different." Went on to suggest that, if he wasn't disabled, we wouldn't have placed him above such a despicable act.

And if that doesn't sound bat-shit crazy enough for you, try this, from Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg: "Were we shocked because he (Pistorius) was a double-amputee? I think so." Really Michael? Really? And let's not stop there; Pistorius would apparently have caused less shock in Rosenberg's lunchbox if he'd been an NFL player who allegedly murdered his partner. Can't remember anyone thinking that about OJ Simpson.

Talk about a twisted point of view. Michael, we're not shocked because Pistorius is a double amputee charged with murder. We're shocked because a woman was allegedly shot to death by someone whose name we're familiar with. The best double-amputee sprinter on the planet, no less. Rather than debating our surprise over his identity, can we simply be allowed to be shocked on behalf of Reeva Steenkamp? She was killed, after all.

Just as outrageous are those who continue to mix up Pistorius' alleged crime with the falls from grace of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, in a clumsy attempt to demonstrate how our judgement of sports stars is often "paralysed". With respect, Woods was guilty of being unfaithful to his wife; Armstrong of cheating in bike races. Pistorius is charged with the premeditated murder of his partner. There is no parallel; there is no connection.

Fine, make up your own mind about the morality of our modern athletes. Judging by the experiences of people such as Woods, Armstrong, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and John Terry, it's doesn't sound much different from the rest of the community. Having said that, I still think we're entitled to follow the progress of our sports stars without wondering whether or not they might have the potential to become cold-blooded killers.

It's as if people are suggesting we should have seen this coming. Pistorius was occasionally angry, from all accounts. Sometimes shouted down the phone. Well crikey, if that's to be the measure of someone who might slaughter his girlfriend in the middle of the night we'd better start locking up most of the world's adult population. Call me old fashioned, but I'd prefer to offer people the benefit of the doubt. Even if it ends in shock.

Oh, and by the way. Just one more time: her name was Reeva Steenkamp.



» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.


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