Unlikely Heroes

In one scene from The Ringer, the recent Farrelly brothers’ movie (There’s Something about Mary, Dumb and Dumber), a gang of Special Olympics athletes clad in nothing more than towels, leads an exuberant steamroom dance. It’s my seventeen-year-old son Tim’s favorite scene in the film.

Why? “Because they’re having so much fun, and no one my age would ever have the guts to do that.”

Put simply, the steamroom scene makes viewers-even trend-conscious, socially inhibited teenagers-wish they were more like Special Olympics athletes. An age-old hierarchy is reversed: the “retarded” child or “moron,” who throughout history has been ostracized, and pitied, is for once, the coolest guy in the crowd.

To appreciate the full drama of this moment, it’s worth remembering the day-to-day reality of the world’s 170 million people with intellectual disabilities. Despite centuries of social progress for other mistreated minorities, people with intellectual disabilities still suffer the most outrageous social injustice and personal indignity. Worldwide, the vast majority of children with intellectual disabilities does not go to school, receive proper healthcare, or have simple friendships. A recent Special Olympics/Gallup survey suggests that some 63 percent of Americans want these children segregated into special schools. A few years ago, the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for Katherine Boo’s exposé showing...

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About the Author

Timothy P. Shriver is chairman and CEO of Special Olympics.