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Murderball: Take it Personally

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10004922-1Murderball: Take it Personally

I’ve seen Murderball 3 times. If you’re old enough (it’s rated R for some curse words and sexual content), I recommend you see it at least once. It provides the viewer with plenty of reality and touching moments. Intense rivalry, team work, relationships between family and friends, pain, fear of the unknown, insight, drama and true passion.

It’s been 38 years since the premiere of Ironside, a series about a Chief of Detectives whose life was changed by a Disability. Ironside, a wheelchair user as a result of an assassin’s bullet, became a consultant to the police department. The series lasted 8 years.

Logic would dictate that after years of awareness, disability laws, consistently seeing people with disabilities succeed in mainstream America and a HUGE amount of POSITIVE reviews, it’d be hard to find a ticket to MURDERBALL. Still the movie has multiple barriers to overcome to generate mass appeal. The most profound of those is attitudes about disability- Attitudes with deep roots.

In the 19th century, the Alabama legislature declared us a “menace to the happiness…of the community.” In Pennsylvania, disabled people were termed “anti-social beings;” in Washington, “unfitted for companionship with other children;” in Kansas, “a misfortune both to themselves and to the public,” in Indiana, we were required to be “segregate[d] from the world;” and in South Dakota, we simply did not have the “rights and liberties of normal people.” In every state, the policy was to keep us out of site and out of mind. Such was the treatment of people with disabilities for decades by the medical profession, state officials, democratically elected state legislatures and even the United States Supreme Court.

On July 26th, 1990, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. It has great promise. “Barriers to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications have imposed staggering economic and social costs on American society and have undermined our well-intentioned efforts to educate, rehabilitate, and employ individuals with disabilities. By breaking down these barriers, the ADA will enable society to benefit from the skills and talents of individuals with disabilities, will allow us all to gain from their increased purchasing power and ability to use it, and will lead to fuller, more productive lives for all Americans,”

Disability laws like the ADA have created change, but there must be an emotional change, laws alone won’t work. Until people with and without disabilities make themselves watch movies like Murderball, read books like ‘Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life,’ and have relationships, inclusion of people with disabilities will only be a dream.

I’m grateful to all the people that made Murderball possible, especially the individuals and families who shared their stories. I strongly encourage people with and without disabilities to watch it, take someone and challenge others to Take it Personally. Otherwise the Hollywood Blockbusters will cancel it. Show times and locations are at

Media, Hollywood, Publishers and Educators, here’s your opportunity to make a difference. Elected officials, Nothing About Us Without Us, it’s time to quit attacking the ADA and pass bills like MICASSA, Money Follows the Person and Lifespan Respite NOW.

Mark Johnson is Director of Advocacy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He’s been a C 5-6 quadriplegic from spinal cord injury and disability rights advocate for over 30 years.

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