Saturday, August 16, 2008

D*#k Flicks: Murderball

As the Olympics play in the background at The Common Man's house, he is thinking about athletes and the nature of athleticism. What makes badminton a sport worthy of Olympic glory, after all (all that flailing is awfully undignified. Very unmanly)? Why not ultimate frisbee? Why rhythmic gymnastics and not breakdancing? Why the cycling individual chase and not, um, tandem cycling? C'mon, who doesn't want to see bicycles built for two racing? Think how wide they'd have to take the corners.

Anyway, Quad Rugby is not an Olympic sport (it's a paralympic sport), and maybe it shouldn't be. The Olympics is designed so that any athlete from anywhere gets a chance to show off their skills. To be a quad rugby player, you must have some dysfunction in all four of your limbs. You also have to be, The Common Man learned from watching the impressive documentary Murderball, pretty badass. The film profiles the U.S. and Canadian Quad Rugby teams as they prepare for the 2004 paralympic games in Athens and the various ways in which they are awesome.

The film builds drama and tension by focusing on the rivalry between Canadian coach Joe Sores, a hero on the 1996 team who turned his back on US Quad rugby after being cut from the squad (he was getting too slow), and the team he left behind, and their shared dream of winning the gold medal at the 2004 games. One of the U.S. players nonchalantly explains that, "If Joe was on the side of the road on fire, I wouldn't piss on him to put it out." And as that rivalry intensifies between the two, to a climactic showdown in Athens, the film glorifies them. It explores their flaws, certainly, but uses them as a means to explain how and why they are so impressive. The film helps transform them in the viewers eyes from quadriplegics to men, jocks even, who have the same needs and most of the same abilities as the rest of America. It chronicles how they have sex, their personal relationships with their girlfriends and families, and their work and home lives. It humanizes them, particularly those whose limbs no longer look human.

It's an eye-opening look at a subculture of Americans who are often misunderstood and misrepresented. It demonstrates that manliness is not a physical trait, but a mental one. The punishment that these players took (in their lives and on the rugby court) and their enthusiasm to put their bodies on the line again speaks volumes about their toughness, their resolve, and their tenacity, to say nothing of their skill. It's one thing to see grown men throw themselves at one another on a football field. It's another to see men fall out of their wheelchairs, knowing that they won't be able to pick themselves back up and that the wrong kind of fall could exacerbate their injuries. That kind of competitiveness is foreign to most men, but it is another opportunity these players see to prove themselves. Another way to demand respect.

The film is exciting, brutal, and honest. And it sympathetically profiles everyone involved (sometimes hard to do with the Canadian coach), but admits that some of them are jackasses. It shows them at their best and explains their worst. It does not fawn over them. And so, for teaching that manliness comes from within, for highlightings some truly impressive dudes, for being funny and tense, and for being amped up on testosterone, The Common Man gives Murderball two big balls. Brass ones. The Common Man is tempting to call it inspiring, but doesn't want to get beat on by U.S. Quad Rugby spokesman Mark Zupan.

The 2008 games are set to begin on September 6th in Beijing. Sadly, none of it will be shown on American television. Good job, ESPN. The Common Man is sure he'll enjoy watching SportsCenter 14 times in a row, followed by 4 hours of commentators yelling at one another over manufactured controversies, followed by women's billiards. Thanks. Maybe once ESPN 12 is up and running?

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