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Movies | The documentary follows members of Team U.S.A. as they build up to the 2004 Paralympics, a competition of disabled athletes

Issue: "Salting Hollywood," Sept. 3, 2005

"Murderball" was the original name of the game but, says one player in the documentary of that title, it was not the sort of term that could attract corporate sponsors. So today it goes by "quad rugby." Quadriplegics in wheelchairs pass, dribble, and carry a ball across a basketball court, as the other side blocks, rams, and tries to knock them over. Quad rugby is a serious sport, with leagues in most major cities and international competitions.

Murderball follows members of Team U.S.A.-and a former champion who gets cut from the team and becomes the coach of the arch-rival Canadian team-as they build up to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, a competition of disabled athletes held in conjunction with the Olympics.

The athletes have suffered broken necks, spinal cord injuries, polio, meningitis. Some were victims of drunk drivers, motorcycle accidents, rare diseases, and other tribulations. But in this documentary, they are not objects of pity. They have attitude, strong personalities, and fierce competitiveness. One of them, who lost all his limbs due to a rare blood disease, has as a motto: "no arms, no legs, no problem."

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We admire the athletes' grit and courage. But the movie also shows they can be obnoxious and flawed. We see that quadriplegics can be jocks, jokers, party animals, and domineering fathers. That is, they are human. (The documentary is rated R for bad language and snippets of a video showing quadriplegics how to have sex.)

As part of their humanness, they also change. A tough-guy intimidator on the team reconciles with his best friend, whose drunken driving took away the use of his legs. The driven coach has a heart attack. After it he learns to take pride in his nonathletic son. We follow a young man after his accident, through the emotional lows of rehab, to his life-enhancing discovery of murderball.

In a culture that often sees the physically disabled as having such a negligible "quality of life" that they merit euthanasia, Murderball is profoundly pro-life.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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