There’s a lot going on here, and I may lack the ethics dexterity, or perhaps the courage, to figure it out.
I learned about the story on CNN this morning, as the newscasters were getting misty-eyed and “Awwing” all over the place. With a lot of fairly disturbing ethics issues rotting on my plate, I was looking for something uplifting to write about. I’m not sure whether this is it or not.
Here is the most recent on-line story about Kory Mitchell, a sophomore on the varsity cheerleading squad for Manitou Springs (Colorado) High School, who was born with Down Syndrome:
DENVER, Colo. – A Colorado teen with Down syndrome has made her dream of competing in a cheerleading competition come true.
Colorado’s 3-A cheerleading champions hail from Manitou Springs. At the top of their pyramid is a teenager who has overcome serious challenges in her life. The countdown is on as thirteen girls get one last practice in at the Colorado School of Mines. In minutes, the Manitou Springs Mustangs huddle will compete against other top teams.
Cheerleaders take center stage showcasing their spirit and synchronicity. The Manitou Springs Mustangs huddle one last time. And for the first time, joining them in competition is 16-year-old Kory Mitchell.
“She is full of life and full of energy and always wants to be a part of everything,” says her mom, Bonnie King, as she watches with pride.
Her daughter has dreamt about being a cheerleader since elementary school. Her mom is emotional.
But learning these already complicated routines is harder for Kory. “It`s just a tough road when you have a differently-abled child. And to see them have a sense of belonging and acceptance is what she wants, of course, is just so beautiful to see it,” mom says.
Kory’s teammates see what’s under the surface. Things like courage, patience and unconditional acceptance.
“She`s pretty spunky. And she`s got some sass. She loves being out there. It`s nice to see her smile and part of the team,” says one of her teammates. Sometimes competitions aren’t about who wins, but a little hardware doesn’t hurt.
Kory accepted the trophy and a hand from her teammates.
“It`s my dream come true. I love my girls a lot. I`m a big fan of cheerleaders,” Kory said.And Kory’s teammates are big fans of her. This was Kory`s first competition, but she has cheered with the team since last year at football and basketball games.
Observations (some of them reluctant):
1. We learn in some other reports that this cheerleading squad does not have try-outs. Any student who wants to put in the work and to be a cheerleader can be on the team. Good, then Kory showed character to take on the challenge, and the team had no basis upon which to reject her.
2. It also deserves no special credit for not rejecting her. However, I question the standards that caused her to placed be on the varsity team. It depends on what the team wants to be, of course. Are the cheerleaders there to represent the school’s diversity and values, including dedication and enthusiasm? If so, I can easily believe that Kory earned her spot over others. Is the varsity supposed to present the best cheerleaders in term of athleticism, coordination and aesthetics? If so, I question the integrity and motives of the selection process. Kory is by all measures remarkable. She is not an objectively excellent cheerleader. Even in the brief videos I have seen, she is often out of synch with her team mates. Personally, I would say, “So what?” If the cheerleading team is about leading cheers and showing earnest support for the school, nobody should care. If it has another purpose, like choreography and precision of execution however, one cheerleader being a bit off matters.
3. Are there objectively better cheerleaders than Kory who she has displaced? That’s OK, and perhaps admirable, if everyone, including those cheeleaders, genuinely endorse a kind gesture that reflects well on the school and its students, and allows a young woman who has a lot to overcome in life to feel included and valued. If not, however, it is unfair. What of other, non-Down Syndrome girls who dream of being cheerleaders and included among the elite? Are they not worthy of kindness too? Why should a student with one handicap get an advantage over those girls with others, who may be too short, or fat, or awkward but who still have dreams?
4. Is this ethics, or is it the “Awww!” factor, sentimentality that masquerades as ethics, and hides some dubious conduct in the process?
5. How can the squad’s victory in the competition be taken at face value? Does anyone believe that if the team had a non-Down Syndrome member slightly out of synchronization with the rest of the team, it still would have won? Isn’t there a legitimate suspicion that the prize went to Manitou Springs because of Kory, to salute the team for its compassion, diversity, caring and kindness? Except that the competition was for cheerleading, not compassion, diversity, caring and kindness. If the latter were the basis for the standard applied by the judges, rather than execution and routine difficulty, then the other teams were treated unfairly.
6. The difficult aspect of these kinds of ethical/non ethical scenarios is that nobody in their right mind will ever complain—not the girls unfairly penalized because they don’t have Down Syndrome, not the teams penalized because they don’t have a Down Syndrome member. Who is brave or foolish enough to blow the whistle on “Aw!” and be labelled a heartless monster?
7. I know what you’re thinking. I know I have a heart because mine dropped a bit when I read this, in another article about Kory:
She’s a born performer and entertainer who dreams of moving to New York City. “I’m a great dancer,” Mitchell said. “I sing.”
When does it stop being kind to encourage dreams that can never become reality?
I don’t know. As I said, I can’t untangle this: if you can, please do. I admire Kory in every way. I’m very happy that Kory is where she is right now, happy for her family, and happy for the inspiration she will give to other Down Syndrome children and they families.
Other than that, however, I can’t tell where the “Aw!” starts and the ethics ends.