Quantifying the Supercrip Image

Exploring the Impact of Knowledge of an Athlete’s Physical Disability on Spectators’ Impressions of Performance and Interest in Consumption


  • Michael Cottingham University of Houston
  • Daniel Wann Murray State
  • Kevin Byon Indiana University
  • Tiao Hu University of Houston


deaf sport, spectator perspective, supercrip image


The purpose of this study was to examine how spectators perceived athletes with disabilities when the spectators were aware of the disabilities versus when the spectators were unaware. A 10 minute video of a deaf NCAA basketball team (Gallaudet University) playing against a hearing NCAA basketball team (Wilkes University) was used as a means to collect data.  Approximately half of the participants were informed that the players for Gallaudet were deaf while the other participants were not. Participants who were informed of the Gallaudet players’ impairment viewed the Gallaudet players as exhibiting better communication and teamwork, being more athletic and skillful, being more inspirational, and participants were more interested in attending a Gallaudet game.


Bartsch, A., Oliver, M., Nitsch, C., and Scherr, S. (2018). Inspired by the Paralympics: Effects of empathy on audience interest in Para-sports and on the destigmatization of persons with disabilities.” Communication Research, 45(4), 525–553.

Berger, R. J. (2008). Disability and the dedicated wheelchair athlete beyond the “supercrip” critique. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 37, 647-678. DOI: 10.1177/0891241607309892

Boyle, M. A. (1997). Social barriers to successful reentry into mainstream organizational culture: Perceptions of people with disabilities. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 8, 259-268. DOI: 10.1002/hrdq.3920080308

Brisenden, S. (1986). Independent living and the medical model of disability. Disability, Handicap & Society, 1, 173-178. DOI: 10.1080/02674648666780171

Brittain, I. (2004). Perceptions of disability and their impact upon involvement in sport for people with disabilities at all levels. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 28, 429-452. DOI: 10.1177/0193723504268729

Byon, K. K., Cottingham II, M., & Carroll, M. (2010). Marketing murderball: The influence of spectator motivation factors on sport consumption behaviors of wheelchair rugby spectators. International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, 12, 76-94.

Byrd, K. (1989). Theory regarding attitudes and how they may relate to media portrayals of disability. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 20, 36-38.

Campbell, D., & Stanley, J. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research and teaching. In Sage (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co.

Clark, R. A., & Sachs, M. L. (1991). Challenges and opportunities in psychological skills training in deaf athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 5, 392-398.

Cottingham, M., Carroll, M., Phillips, D. Karadakis, K., Gearity, B.T. & Drane, D. (2014). Development and validation of the motivation scale for disability sport consumption. Sport Management Review, 17(1).

Cottingham, M., Gearity, B.T., & Byon, K. K. (2013). A qualitative examination of disability sport executives’ perceptions of sport promotion and the acquisition of sponsors. Sport Marketing Quarterly 22, 92-100.

Cottingham, M., Pate, J. R., & Gearity, B. (2015). Examining “inspiration”: Perspectives of stakeholders attending a power wheelchair soccer tournament. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 4(1), 59-88.

Cottingham, M., Phillips, D., Hall, S. A., Gearity, B. T., & Carroll, M. S. (2014). Application of the motivation scale for disability sport consumption: An examination of intended future consumption behavior of collegiate wheelchair basketball spectators. Journal of Sport Behavior, 37(2), 117.

Esmail, S., Darry, K., Walter, A., & Knupp, H. (2010). Attitudes and perceptions towards disability and sexuality. Disability & Rehabilitation, 32, 1148-1155. DOI: 10.3109/09638280903419277

Evaggelinou, C., & Grekinis, D. (1998). A survey of spectators at the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 15(1), 25-35.

Funk, D., Mahony, D., & Ridinger, L. (2002). Characterizing consumer motivation as individual difference factors: Augmenting the Sport Interest Inventory (SII) to explain level of spectator support. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 11(1), 33–43.

Gerard, H.B. & Hoyt, M. F. (1974). Distinctiveness of social categorization and attitude toward in-group members. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29, 836-842. DOI: 10.1037/h0036204

Graib, A. A., Qablan, S. A., & Aldmour, H. A. (2012). Effect of some personal attributes – Anxiety and tension on the level of performance of basketball aiming skills for deaf players in Jordan. European Scientific Journal, 8, 100-119.

Grue, J. (2016). The problem with inspiration porn: A tentative definition and a provisional critique. Disability & Society, 31(6), 838–849.

Hardin, B., & Hardin, M. (2003). Conformity and conflict: Wheelchair athletes discuss sport media. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 20, 246-259.

Hardin, M., & Hardin, B. (2004). The “supercrip” in sport media: Wheelchair athletes discuss hegemony’s disabled hero. Sociology of Sport Online, 7.

Hardin, M., Lynn, S., Walsdorf, K., & Hardin, B. (2001). Missing in action? Images of disability in Sports Illustrated for Kids. Disability Studies Quarterly, 21(2).

Hargreaves, J. A., & Hardin, B. (2009). Women wheelchair athletes: competing against media stereotypes. Disability Studies Quarterly, 29(2).

Howard, J. W., & Rothbart, M. (1980). Social categorization and memory for in-group and out-group behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 301-310. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.38.2.301

Howe, P. D. (2008). From inside the newsroom: Paralympic media and the production of elite disability. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 43, 135-150. DOI: 10.1177/1012690208095376

Howe, P. D. (2011). Cyborg and supercrip: The Paralympics technology and the (dis)empowerment of disabled athletes. Sociology, 45, 868-882. DOI: 10.1177/0038038511413421

Hughes, B., & Paterson, K. (1997). The social model of disability and the disappearing body: Towards a sociology of impairment. Disability & Society, 12, 325-340. DOI: 10.1080/09687599727209

Kama, A. (2004). Supercrips versus the pitiful handicapped: Reception of disabling images by disabled audience members. Communications, 29, 447-466. DOI: 10.1515/comm.2004.29.4.447

Kanemasu, Y. (2021). Rugby, nationalism, and deaf athlete counterhegemony: Insights from the case of Fiji. Sociology of Sport Journal, 38(2), 149–157.

Kurková, P., Válková, H., & Scheetz, N. (2011). Factors impacting participation of European elite deaf athletes in sport. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29, 607-618. DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2010.548821

Kwon, H. & Trail, G. (2001). Sport fan motivation: A comparison of American students and international students. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 10(3), 147-155.

Livneh, H. (1980). Disability and monstrosity: Further comments. Rehabilitation literature, 41, 280-283

McKercher, B., Packer, T., Yau, M. K., & Lam, P. (2003). Travel agents as facilitators or inhibitors of travel: perceptions of people with disabilities. Tourism Management, 24, 465-474. DOI: 10.1016/S0261-5177(02)00107-3

Nemček, D. (2017). Self-esteem analyses in people who are deaf or hard of hearing: A comparison between active and inactive individuals. Physical Activity Review, 5(5), 95- 104.

Pulrang, A. (2019). How to avoid “inspiration porn.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2019/11/29/how-to-avoid-inspiration-porn/#542feb845b3db

Schell, L. A., & Duncan, M. C. (1999). A content analysis of CBS's coverage of the 1996 Paralympic Games. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 16, 27-47.

Shelton, S. S. (2018, August). Discovering disability: What Are non-disabled consumer attitudes toward persons with disabilities in advertising? Paper presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference, 2018, Washington, DC.

Shelton, S. S., & Waddell, T. F. (2020). Does “inspiration porn” inspire? How disability and challenge impact attitudinal evaluations of advertising. Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, 42(3), 258-276.

Silva, C. F., & Howe, P. D. (2012). The (In)validity of supercrip representation of Paralympian athletes. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 36, 174-194. DOI: 10.1177/0193723511433865

Smart, J. F. (2001). Disability, society, and the individual. Austin, TX: Pro Ed.

Smith, A., & Thomas, N. (2005). The ‘inclusion’ of elite athletes with disabilities in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games: an exploratory analysis of British newspaper coverage. Sport, Education and Society, 10, 49-67. DOI: 10.1080/1357332052000298809

Solutions Marketing Group. 2018. “Disability Inclusive Messaging: What is Inspiration Porn https://disabilitymarketing.com/2018/08/23/disability-inclusive-messaging-inspiration-porn/

Stewart, D. A. (1993). Participating in deaf sport: Characteristics of deaf spectators. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 10, 146-156.

Stewart, D. A., McCarthy, D., & Robinson, J. A. (1988). Participation in deaf sport: Characteristics of deaf sport directors. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 5, 233-244.

Stewart, D. A., Robinson, J. A., & McCarthy, D. (1991). Participation in deaf sport: Characteristics of elite deaf athletes. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 8, 136-145.

Suggs, D. W. Jr., & Guthrie, J.L. (2017). Disabling prejudice: A case study of images of Paralympic athletes and attitudes toward people with disabilities. International Journal of Sport Communication, 10(2), 258–76.

Trail, G., Anderson, D. F., & Fink, J. (2000). A theoretical model of sport spectator consumption behavior. International Journal of Sport Management, 1, 154-180.

United States Quad Rugby Association. (2010). The United States Quad Rugby Association Annual Report. Birmingham, AL.

Uchida, W., Marsh, H., & Hashimoto, K. (2015). Predictors and correlates of self-esteem in deaf athletes. European Journal of Adapted Physical Activity, 8(1), 21–30.

Wann, D. L., & Branscombe, N. R. (1995). Influence of identification with a sports team on objective knowledge and subjective beliefs. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 26, 551-567.

Wann, D. L., Koch, K., Knoth, T., Fox, D., Aljubaily, H., & Lantz, C. D. (2006). The impact of team identification on biased predictions of player performance. The Psychological Record, 56, 55-66.

Wann, D. L., Melnick, M. J., Russell, G. W., & Pease, D. G. (2001). Sport fans: The psychology and social impact of spectators. New York: Routledge.

Wann, D. L., & Cottingham, M. (2015). The impact of team identification and knowledge of an athlete’s physical disability on spectators’ impressions of player. Journal of Contemporary Athletics, 9(3), 161.

Wenner, L. A., & Gantz, W. (1989). The audience experience with sports on television. In L.A. Wenner (Ed.), Media, sports, and society (pp. 241-268). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Yamashita, R., & Muneda, M. (2019). What motivates wheelchair basketball spectators? Analysis of moderating effects on intention to attend Tokyo 2020 Olympic Paralympic Games. International Journal of Sport and Health Science, 17, 217-226.

Young, S. (2014). I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much