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Being an Olympic athlete entails a series of incalculable sacrifices: tough training routines, strict dieting, and a remarkably healthy lifestyle compared to everyday citizens. This is, certainly, the bare minimum. But being a Paralympic athlete not only requires all of the above, but also overcoming the physical obstacles that life put in the way to fulfill the dream of being an athlete.
That is why the Paralympic Games and competitions in general that bring together athletes with physical disabilities are so difficult and, at the same time, moving. Because they show, to the maximum extent, the capacity for resilience that human beings have. However, in an act of baseness, multiple media charged against more than seventy Paralympic athletes to attack the figure of FL Governor Ron DeSantis.
A similarity to the case of Novak Djokovic
Do you remember when the Australian Government, in a clear discriminatory act, decided not to let Novak Djokovic compete in the Australian Open because he decided not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (despite the fact that the Serbian tennis player met the necessary medical and immigration requirements)? Well, something similar was happening in Florida with the Special Olympics USA Games, held in the city of Orlando from June 5-12.
Special Olympics International had enacted as a requirement for the tournament that all Paralympic athletes present vaccine cards for the Orlando games, supposedly to safeguard the athletes’ health.
However, it is well known that in Florida the vaccine mandate is illegal and that the free choice of citizens to get or not get the coronavirus vaccine is respected, including Paralympic athletes from all over the country.
In light of this, the Florida Department of Health sent a letter to Special Olympics warning them that their vaccine card requirement was illegal in the state and that they therefore got “a $27.5 million fine for 5,500 violations of section 381.00316(1), Florida Statutes, after the Department of Health (Department) made repeated attempts to avoid imposing fines against this charitable organization to ensure the 2022 USA Special Olympics could be held in Florida without requiring proof vaccination from delegates.”
“The Department found that SOI required proof certifying COVID-19 vaccination from 5,500 individuals to gain access to, entry upon, and/or services from the 2022 USA Special Olympics Games, in violation of Florida law,” the letter reads.
After this letter, the Special Olympics agreed to lift the vaccine card mandate, allowing all athletes to compete without any discrimination.
A happy ending, right? Well, that’s not how the national media saw it.
Discriminating athletes to attack Ron DeSantis
After the Florida Department of Health sent the missive to SOI, the media went for Governor DeSantis’ throat for, in theory, endangering Paralympic athletes.
On June 4, in USA Today, columnist Mike Freeman wrote: “It is true that DeSantis’ cruelty and white nationalist-adjacency go beyond attacking the vulnerable (…) His actions, however, involving the Special Olympics are particularly awful. The state of Florida threatened to fine the Special Olympics $27.5 million for requiring 5,500 participants at the USA Games in Orlando (…) to be vaccinated against COVID. That threat caused the organization to drop the mandate, a mandate that potentially saves lives.”
The Los Angeles Times also questioned not only the DeSantis administration, but also the Special Olympics organization for complying with Floridian law: “It was entirely a response to an astonishing threat from the state of Florida to fine the games $27.5 million for imposing a vaccine mandate (…) Several questions need to be answered about this decision, and several lessons to be drawn from it. The latter all point to the sheer thuggishness of the DeSantis administration, but also to why the Special Olympics organization caved to DeSantis so meekly.”
MSNBC also ran a column with a similar focus: “The Special Olympics blew its chance to stand up to America’s biggest bully.”
In Rolling Stone Magazine (in a supposed news article) a biased approach was used to attack DeSantis and the rules imposed on the Sunshine State: “Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and his administration have used their authority to essentially punish organizations he deems to be insufficiently conservative. One of their latest targets is the Special Olympics.”
How far are the media willing to go to attack a political opponent?
The media’s approach to the letter sent from the Florida Department of Health is a direct discrimination against Paralympic athletes in order to attack a political adversary.
The issue is very simple: Florida law, and this particular letter, allowed 70 Paralympic athletes or delegates, who have fought so hard in their lives to be able to compete professionally at the highest level, to compete in the games without having the COVID-19 vaccination.
Why were these athletes not vaccinated? For different reasons. Some for medical reasons, they even got a health exemption to explain why they are not vaccinated. Others simply chose freely not to do so; either because of religion or distrust of vaccines, whatever the case may be. However, to the national media, these athletes should have been medically discriminated against and DeSantis should have let a non-Florida organization violate the rules of the state he leads.
“Florida’s Special Olympics organization has made every effort to comply with the law and respect athletes’ personal medical decisions. However, the Special Olympics International policy was in violation of state law, so we are glad they revised it to come into compliance and host an inclusive Special Olympics in Florida,” Ron DeSantis’ press team said in a statement to El American. “Like everyone else, Special Olympics athletes have the right to make the best choices for their own personal health, in consultation with their doctors and loved ones. Vaccination is not necessarily the right choice for some individuals, because the risks may outweigh the benefits.”
The DeSantis administration’s position is very clear: Florida does not discriminate against anyone for making the free choice of not getting vaccinated. It is not New York, nor is it Australia, where the authorities choose to medically discriminate against its citizens and athletes.
And because Florida is not like other blue states, many courageous Americans, such as golfer Isabelle Valle, who suffers from cerebral palsy and plays golf with one hand and in a wheelchair, were able to fulfill their dream of playing in the Special Olympics in Orlando.
Isabelle’s mother, Elaine Valle, was one of the people who appeared alongside DeSantis at a press conference explaining how her daughter could not take the COVID-19 vaccine on the medical recommendation of Isabelle’s own neurologist, who said there was a possibility that the dose would cause a fever that would generate complications in the golfer.
However, the media forgot to remember these stories in their political attacks directed against the Florida authorities.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
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