You may not know his name, but you have probably seen Jason McElwain in action. A recent videotape of his basketball exploits has touched an entire nation.
I pray that it does more than that.
McElwain, a senior at Greece Athena High School in upstate New York, is autistic. Like many autistic persons, he didn’t speak until he was five years old and has limited social skills. These didn’t stop him from serving as student manager of the basketball team.
In two years, Jason never missed a game, practice, or workout. Coach Jim Johnson and the players wanted to reward McElwain for his dedication by letting him play in at least one game.
With four minutes left in the last game of the season, Jason entered the game to deafening cheers. After missing his first two shots, Jason hit six three-pointers, including one that seemed to be launched from a different zip code, and wound up as the game’s high scorer with twenty points.
After the buzzer, the crowd rushed the floor, and his teammates carried Jason off on their shoulders. Coach Johnson called what happened “as touching as any moment I have ever had in sports.”
Sportswriter Mike Lupica called it “as perfect a sports moment [as] . . . any of us will ever know about.” The tape, which aired almost everywhere, made an autistic kid from upstate New York “the most famous basketball player anywhere.”
While watching the news reports, I felt great for Jason and his family. As the grandfather of an autistic child, it was wonderful to see a reminder that these wonderful kids can be helped and can exceed our expectations.
But, as a Christian, I was struck by a savage irony: At the same time that Americans were touched by one disabled child, countless disabled children in the West face annihilation.
For example, in the Netherlands, medical protocols allow for the killing of disabled infants. As Wesley Smith points out, “disabled” includes Down syndrome, hemophilia, and other conditions that don’t prevent people from living happy lives. All that matters is that the child’s death “serves the interests of their families.”
Here in the United States, children with Down syndrome have been systematically “targeted for elimination.” A combination of amniocentesis, abortion, and pressure from physicians has made bearing a child with Down syndrome an heroic act.
Given this track record, can anyone seriously doubt what will happen as more disabilities can be detected through genetic screening? The pressures to abort children with possible disabilities will be immense. Just last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine had a chilling story about doctors being sued for “wrongful birth” because they have failed to warn the mother of defects in time for her to get an abortion.
It would be a shame if the sentimentality over the Jason story blinded us to the most important lessons we can learn from kids like Jason: What makes their lives worth celebrating is not what they do; it’s who they are. For me, what really mattered most was the love and respect shown to Jason by both his teammates and the crowd.
It’s a model for how all life should be treated, and anything less is missing the point altogether.