A few months back, Ike Ditzenberger, a young man with Downsyndrome, scored a 51-yard touchdown for his high school football team. It made the national news. In fact, he reportedly got a movie contract out of themoment. More recently, Guideposts deemed his story one of the Top TenInspirational Stories of 2010.

Here are the facts: Ditzenberger practiced with the team,but he didn’t usually see playing time. In this game, he had been sitting onthe bench until the final minutes. His team was down 35-0. So his coach put himin with a plan to execute one more play, “the Ike special.” The players fromthe opposing team agreed to let Ike carry the ball to the end zone. It went offwell. Ike ran the ball and scored a touchdown. And, due to the wonders of You Tube, his moment of glory extended beyond thebounds of their small town in Washington State, from coast to coast. You can watch the video here:

I receive a daily Google alert with news stories about Downsyndrome and individuals with Down syndrome, and Ike’s story showed up dailyfor over a week. I kept thinking I’d write about it, but I wasn’t sure how torespond. People obviously found it inspirational. It was really nice that Ike’steammates (and perhaps, even more so, the opposing team) wanted him to have histime in the spotlight. And yet something bothered me about it too.

I spoke with a friend who works for the Special Olympics about it. She said, “Well, it’s great that Ike is on the team with his typical peers. And it’s great that they want to include him and encourage him. But I’d rather see him out there like any other player–getting tackled, running a few yards, whatever.”

I’m still not quite sure what to make of it all. On the one hand, I want people with Down syndrome to be included on sports teams, in classrooms, and all other manners of life. On the other hand, I don’t want the general population to assume that people with Down syndrome can only “succeed” if their success is orchestrated. I don’t want the media to use a young man like Ike Ditzenberger to make the rest of us feel good about ourselves.

But maybe I’m just too critical, too cynical. As it turns out, one of my close friends is Ike’s cousin. She says Ike and his family took the experience at face value–as a testimony to his devotion to the team and to the love and care and camaraderie he developed with his teammates over the years. Perhaps Ike’s “success” on the team should be measured by the relationships he formed rather than the number of yards he ran or tackles he executed. 

What do you think? Is this an example of exploitation or inspiration? 

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