AJ Daulerio's Cultural Oddsmaker runs every Friday. Email him to let him know what you think.
Unlike Shaquille O'Neal, who signed up for a reality show to highlight the obesity problem in children, I've never been much of a caring person. I never volunteered, donated money to causes or adopted starving fly-riddled children from Haiti. Basically , anything that would characterize me as a good-hearted human being I've ignored, but on one occasion, I broke character.
One of my first jobs in print media was at Montgomery Newspapers, venerable publisher of weekly newspapers that cover the local pie eating contests and municipal board meetings of the small Montgomery County towns surrounding Philadelphia. One of my first weekend assignments was to go cover a Special Olympics trial event for teenagers in the area held at local high school. I knew I was possibly the worst person to put on this assignment, but it's not something you can really opt out of. What could I possibly say was the reason for me not to cover this event? Because Down Syndrome children give me nightmares? Because I'm afraid I might startle one and they'll pounce on me like a berserk chimpanzee? There was no way out of it.
And just as I'd suspected, the gym was crawling with them. Everywhere you looked there were events going on with contestants wearing crude biking helmets, grunting, screaming, hugging themselves, eating stuff off the floor, hugging trashcans —the nightmare was afoot.
Luckily, I'd come to the tail end of the event, and I propped myself in the corner, scribbled in my notebook and asked some of the "coaches" the names of various event winners, trying desperately to convey that this assignment needed to be immediately filed. But the coach sensed something different from my body language and sweaty forehead — he thought I needed more information and offered me an interview with one of the athletes. Soon, I was face to face with a 14-year-old Down syndrome girl, wearing a weight belt and fingerless gloves, who'd just incline-pressed 150lbs and won the competition in her age group. The coach stood beside her and helped her answer the questions and tell me her name. I pretended to write everything down he was goading out of her, with the hopes that it would end as soon as possible. But as soon as it did, there was another boy standing behind me as I tried to head out the door. "Are you from the news?" he said, his upper lip dried, chapped and his right nostril clogged with booger crust. I told him I was, and attempted to leave, but he persisted.
"Can I say hi to my mom?"
"Sure", I said. I sat there with my notebook, stupidly waiting for him to say something, but he just stared, his arms now behind his back, apparently waiting for me to go get the camera man. I sighed.
"Why don't you just tell me her name?" He obliged and watched me write down the name of his mother. Then he ran off and yelled to his group of friends and screamed " I just got on the news!" which, in turn, resulted in half the participants galloping toward me for their turn to get on the news. Pretty soon, I was surrounded, with Montgomery County Special Olympians, three-deep on all sides, asking me if they can say hi to their sister, their brother, their teacher ... anyone they could think of. I felt like Indiana Jones holding the shackle keys to the mob of Indian slave children who'd just escaped from the Temple of Doom. An hour later, I finally left. I just couldn't walk away from those kids.
So, you know, I know where Shaq's coming from. Kind of.
And I have a feeling Shaq's show will result in spin-offs, most notably from other high-profile athletes who will try to develop their own reality shows featuring children who'll need some guidance.
So I'm dusting off my Fu Shnickens record, making a kitten helmet out of my UNICEF box and placing odds on the next athlete reality shows aimed to help create awareness for unique children who deserve a better life.
Let's slam it (wuh), jam it(unh), and make sure it's broke, after this jump.
Derek Jeter For Craniodiaphyseal dysplasia: 3/1
Jeter's leadership, charisma and popularity make him an obvious choice to host one of these shows. And as a player with abnormally round face, he'd be the perfect candidate to help kids suffering from CDD, otherwise known as "lionitis," "Rocky Dennis disease" or "Smushy faced demon syndrome". Unlike Rocky Dennis, who had to gain his confidence from a wayward biker gang and an easy-access mother, Jeter can serve as an admirable replacement and offer guidance to those kids suffering from this forget about the mask that hides their glory.
Sidney Crosby for Feral Children: 5/1
No professional athletes are usually kept in darker more depressed seclusion than that of the young hockey prodigy. They're best friends are usually zamboni drivers, and their first kiss usually comes from a Koho. Not unlike feral children, who when not being coddled by wolves or kept indoors for most of their young life, can never fully develop as human beings. Enter Crosby, who'll befriend a mangy batch of shut-ins and try to teach them that they can become functioning members of society once they escape their cages.
Marvin Harrison For Ectrodactyly Disease: 3/1
The man with the best hands in football knows that there's a receiver in everyone — even children with the dreaded lobster claw syndrome. In this show, Harrison will travel the country with his gaggle of scissor kids, putting on demonstrations of their untapped athletic prowess by making them run button hook patterns in front of horrified high school students to prove that, creepy hands aside, they can play sports too. High two!
Sun Ming-Ming for Progeria: 8/ 1
Hey, Shaq's not the only big man with a bigger heart. What better way to showcase Sun Ming-Ming as a viable NBA commodity than to unleash him to the American public via reality television? Put him together with a gang of kids that resemble little old goblins, and there's a show that both teaches, entertains, brings people together and ensures America will never look at 8 ft. Chinamen the same way.