The concept of unified sports is a great concept and a wonderful addition to Special Olympics. The idea is that athletes with intellectual disabilities and nondisabled athletes partner to train and compete together – on the same team. Through the process much is learned about differences and similarities, and the hope is that respect and acceptance are embraced, friendships are formed, and living life “together” becomes common practice. As great as this concept is – playing unified isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Something happens in many of our unified partners that rarely happens in our Special Olympics athletes. My Coaches Education Director explains it as the “inner Jordan phenomena” where like Michael, some unified partners feel the need to take over a game, dominate the field of play, and do everything possible to win the game. Playing “with” our athletes, being a good teammate, and helping everyone else excel becomes secondary or sadly, nonexistent.
Thankfully, not all unified partners are challenged by their inner Jordan – and for those who are not, we are deeply grateful for what you have brought to our competitions. We look to you for help in protecting the Special Olympics sports philosophy, which is all about creating meaningful involvement for every Special Olympics athlete who plays. They are our stars, and when we unite with them in sport – they should be shining a little brighter than the rest of us.