50 years after first games, Special Olympics aims for ‘inclusion revolution’

50 years after first games, Special Olympics aims for ‘inclusion revolution’


JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a look at the impact
of the Special Olympics, 50 years after it all began. What started as a small, little-noticed competition
in Chicago is now a global movement. It’s helped change society’s attitudes toward
people with intellectual disabilities. And, as John Yang reports, their goal is inclusion
far beyond the playing field. JOHN YANG: The summer of 1968, a nation in
turmoil. Protesters marched against the war in Vietnam. Urban riots erupted after the assassination
of Martin Luther King, Jr. But amid the tumult, an event the likes of
which the world had never seen: an Olympics for children with intellectual disabilities. It was July 20. Eunice Kennedy Shriver spoke during the opening
ceremony at Chicago’s Soldier Field, just six weeks after her brother Robert had been
killed. EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER, Founder, Special Olympics:
In ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips:
Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the
attempt. Today, many of you will win. But, even more important, I know you will
be brave. Let us begin the Olympics. Thank you. JOHN YANG: About 1,000 competitors from 26
states and Canada ran, swam, threw balls, jumped and showed the world that they could
fully participate in the rituals of childhood. The event drew little notice at the time. But it sparked a change in society’s attitudes
toward the intellectually disabled. Today, millions of athletes train and compete
in more than 100,000 events each year in some 170 nations. Shriver died in 2009. Her son Tim is now Special Olympics chairman. He recalls summers at Camp Shriver, a forerunner
to Special Olympics. In the early 1960s, the family opened their
Maryland home to special needs kids. TIM SHRIVER, Chairman, Special Olympics: I
remember the buses arriving, school buses, yellow school buses. They would come from institutions. I didn’t know where they were coming from. We all would salute the flag and sing the
national anthem together in a circle. I remember my backyard becoming an amusement
park. You know, ponies arrived for pony rides, and
coaches arrived to coach kickball games. I remember playing with campers. I mostly remember that it was fun. JOHN YANG: The first generation of Special
Olympics athletes were born in a time when the intellectually disabled were shunned,
often hidden in institutions. That would have been the case for Loretta
Claiborne, if not for her mother’s resistance. Unable to walk or talk until the age of 4,
she went on to become one of Special Olympics’ most decorated athletes. LORETTA CLAIBORNE, Special Olympics Athlete:
If it wasn’t for Special Olympics, I think I would be in prison or seven — six feet
under. JOHN YANG: Claiborne got involved in Special
Olympics as a teenager. LORETTA CLAIBORNE: It’s taught me about how
to respect myself, how to have acceptance of myself, how to respect someone else, and
it’s OK to be me. It’s OK to be different and to put the disability
behind me and put the ability in front of me. And that’s what Special Olympics taught me
on the track like this. JOHN YANG: Claiborne has quite literally been
etched into history in a painting of Eunice Shriver at the National Portrait Gallery in
Washington. Also in the artwork? Marty Sheets, another renowned Special Olympics
athlete who died in 2015. His favorite sport was golf. We spoke to Marty’s father, Dave, at the Sligo
Creek Golf Course outside Washington, which often hosts Special Olympics events. Born with Down syndrome, Marty went to the
1968 Chicago Games from North Carolina. It was the first time he’d ever been on a
plane. But he got sick after arriving and couldn’t
compete. He still got a surprise from Eunice Shriver. DAVE SHEETS, Father of Marty Sheets: She walked
over to his table and presented Marty with a gold medal for having worked so hard, done
all of the things he needed to do to get there, but wasn’t able to participate at the time. And that gold medal has been absolutely famous,
as far as I’m concerned. JOHN YANG: That first Special Olympics began
with a proposal from a young Chicago Parks gym teacher named Anne McGlone, now Illinois
State Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. In 1968 she, was a college dropout with undiagnosed
dyslexia. She worked with intellectually disabled children. Her experience gave her a thought. JUSTICE ANNE BURKE, Illinois Supreme Court:
I just said, well, the regular day camp has a citywide jamboree. All of Chicago gets involved in it. We should have jamboree down at Soldier Field
just like that, and we can show everybody that these children have abilities. That was the spark of it. JOHN YANG: Burke took her proposal to Shriver. JUSTICE ANNE BURKE: She said, this is not
big enough. You can’t have just a citywide track meet. It has to be a large track meet for everybody. Invite everybody around the country. But to have this little jewel start to have
its heart beat in Soldier Field, to come to full fruition about a vulnerable society,
was under the radar. JOHN YANG: This week, the competition is back
where it began. A highlight is the first global Special Olympics
soccer tournament of unified teams, players both with and without intellectual disabilities. Cody Zimmer is a 25 year old from DeKalb,
Illinois. He’s been diagnosed with mild autism. This is his first time on a unified team. CODY ZIMMER, Special Olympics Athlete: Normal
— like, athletes from like schools, I normally usually have to play against them, never with
them, so good learning experience. JOHN YANG: Do you think they’re learning something
too? CODY ZIMMER: Yes, learning that just because
some of us in Special Olympics have disabilities doesn’t make us any different from being normal
people. JOHN YANG: Seventeen-year-old Cori Hoekstra
plays on the women’s team. She says she’s gained a lot from playing with
athletes with disabilities. CORI HOEKSTRA, Special Olympics Unified Partner:
Each person knows certain things, doesn’t know certain things, so you have to adapt
and work with them. Definitely learned patience and being able
to help them through it and not getting so frustrated so quickly. JOHN YANG: Fifty years after the first Special
Olympics were held here at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the organization has an ambitious goal
for the next half-century. Tim Shriver says he wants people with intellectual
disabilities fully integrated into society, not just competing alongside those without
disabilities, but going to school with them, working with them, living with them. He calls it the inclusion revolution. TIM SHRIVER: Revolution is strong language. It implies a challenge to the status quo. It implies an opponent. We cannot and we shouldn’t tolerate business
or schools or health care institutions or sporting organizations that say, we’re open
for most, but not for you. Those days must end. JOHN YANG: Shriver hopes no one mistakes the
joy of the Games for the seriousness of the mission. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m John Yang in Chicago.

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