Warriors: Shaking Off the Underdog Narrative

LightHouse Interpoint is a literary series featuring perspectives from blind writers around the world. We started  with a Month of Blind Women in March, and proceed into April with a timely reflection on sports and identity from Bay Area native Diego Kusnir. Here Kusnir reflects on the Golden State Warriors’ long arc from underdog to victor, a life trajectory to which many of us can relate. If you’d like to write for Interpoint, please first examine the guidelines here.

Image: A clock radio reading 73:9

by Diego Kusnir

 

Something happened when my vision got blurry as a kid. I went from just playing basketball to also, suddenly, being obsessed with sports radio, and specifically the Golden State Warriors.

I listened to every game. I obsessed over players like Latrell Sprewell, Chris Mullen, and Joe Smith. I listened to sports talk religiously, clock radio pressed against my ear, buried under my sheets so my parents wouldn’t hear, insatiably hoping the radio hosts would mention the Warriors, even though back then the Warriors were such an embarrassment that absolutely no one wanted to talk about them.

Being a Warriors fan was a secret for all of us. We were the laughing stock of sports. But when I was alone at home, supposed to be doing homework, my fingers were always typing “warriors.com” into the web browser, like a compulsion. In grade school, I’d never talk about being blind, but I did love talking about the Warriors, nonstop, until my friends would tell me to shut up. The fact of the matter was the Warriors weren’t cool. And the Warriors and I were a tangled mess.

When I would finally turn off the radio in the wee hours of the night and try to sleep, I loved imagining the Warriors defying all odds, persisting through setbacks and somehow one day winning the championship.

In 2016, the Warriors are the new Beatles. And as they breach 73 wins and overtake the best teams in NBA history, people salivate for Warriors. They are the go-to topic for small talk. But for me, that’s like making small talk about Mozart, or even something deeper. Because even now, even though I’ve got the team I always wished for, it’s uncomfortable to join that small talk.

The truth is that the small talk, for all its fun, always gives way to the more serious conversation—the talk I’m afraid no one signed up for. A conversation that often turns into an interrogation, in which I have to explain exactly how, when, and why my vision started to change, and what it’s like. And how I cope. And that’s not what I signed up for either.

When I lost my vision, I was scared and confused. And my parents were scrambling, first to figure out if I was lying, then to figure out what to do. In the face of that, as many low-vision folks do, I told myself and everyone else it wasn’t a big deal, definitely not traumatic.

I never thought about my blindness; I would think about the Warriors though – a lot. And the constant stream of sports-related information was a perfect way to keep my mind from dwelling on my disability.

Today things have changed for all of us. The Warriors actually started to win and, in some ways, I have too. I went to school. I graduated. I have clients who I help every day. But it’s still hard to shake the underdog mentality that I know so well. Still today, talking about the Warriors feels too close to talking about my vision, or some other humiliating shortcoming.

I’m more aware now of how tangled up my identity is with my fandom. When I recently walked for graduation, it was hard for me to embrace all the flashing cameras and admiring faces, just like it’s still hard for me to embrace the hordes of people standing outside Oracle Arena every day. Walking through that applause was surreal, as if I, and my blindness, suddenly were cool.

I know I’m not where I want to be. I want to be able to talk freely. I want to be able to accept acclaim. I don’t want to feel shame anymore. Maybe it’s just hard to accept that we’re winning; that we’re not underdogs anymore.

 

Diego Kusnir is a psychotherapist living in Oakland, Calif. He received a Psy.D in Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University in 2015. You may contact him here.

 

9 thoughts on “Warriors: Shaking Off the Underdog Narrative”

  1. The obsession with sports is profoundly harmful to the society as a whole, and to people with disabilities in particular. Sports are about competing instead of co-operating, and winner take all. Sports divides people into winners and losers, when the most important thing is participation and finding your role to contribute.
    People with disabilities are praised for being fans of athletes instead of their own accomplishments, or cited as an inspiration if they find a way to overcome their limitations and compete.
    Let’s make this personal. I am very large with poor vision and poor athletic skills, but people have always asked me if I played ball. I even did lay football, and the life lesson I learned was that playing sports reduced me rather than expanded me. It taught me life lessons, but so did debate and student government and – shock – my classes and my church.
    My most profound critique on the concept of the underdog is that people root root root for the identified underdog, but people with disabilities that are not readily apparent get no credit at all.
    Deafness or poor hearing are not as respectable as blindness. Near blindness, such as my mother and uncle had, get no respect. Learning disabilities are ignored and disrespected, and the stigma against my bipolar condition and other mental and emotional disorders is still profound, and people lack basic understanding.
    My life story is a tall, smart, ambitious, creative person who put myself in the “winner” category early in life and became a loser due to a total and permanent disability that I am learning to live with in a way that makes me an inspiration to myself but almost nobody else.
    I consider professional sports a bad choice for a national obsession, and one that is profoundly hurtful, not only to disabled people, but to the 99% of us who are not elite athletes.
    Anybody who has participated in highly competitive organized sports can tell you that it can be an enormous strain that calls for huge investments of effort and risk of injury, with very little compensation to those who are not the big winners. My three years of football contributed to my back pain, gave me a small useless trophy, and some memories of winning one year, and how lousy it is to sit on the bench and not play the next year somewhere else because they had hired somebody better.

    Now, I am honing my ability to write, to use words to communicate my thoughts and feelings. That is a huge challenge, and nobody is even keeping score so I can register as an official underdog.

  2. Thank you, Diego for sharing your experience and raising awareness. Your writing is much needed. Marta

  3. Diego realmente es un orgullo haberte conocido de pequeño y ver que has triunfado y sigues adelante subiendo los peldaños de la vida. Una gran enseñanza la que compartes, sigue escribiendo. Caro

  4. Diego querido, me encantó y conmovió tu bello escrito.
    Es fantástico el modo en que nos relatas tu largo proceso a partir del momento de perdida de tu visón. Perdida vivida como una derrota y desde ese momento tu voluntad para no identificarte con esa palabra “derrotado, perdedor”.
    Besos
    Bachi

  5. Diego, eres una inspiración para mi, el no ver con los ojos te hace ver con los otros sentidos. Sobre todo con el alma. La comunicación con nuestros clientes no es solamente con lo que se observa, más importante es con lo que se siente.
    Y tú tienes ese don de poder sentir, percibir, apersibir, gracias por compartir tu sabiduría!!!!

  6. Querido Diego,
    Tu texto me conmovió y me pareció inspirador. Me gustó todo el texto en su totalidad, pero sobre todo el final: “Maybe it’s just hard to accept that we’re winning; that we’re not underdogs anymore”… Creo que es algo complicado de vivir y enteder, darnos cuenta que estamos empezando a ganar…
    Un fuerte abrazo!

  7. Diego: People like you make this world a better place and gives others hope for the future. After reading your piece a bunch of adjectives crowd mi mind competing to honor your article: rich, insightful, and nuanced in the use of the metaphor. You rightfully have just claimed your place among writers. I join Julie in asking you to keep it coming

  8. Diego,

    You were so authentic and cogent in letting us into your internal world of fandom/disabledom. It is so appropriate to let people see how to cope and how to grow. Thank you and I agree keep it coming. Writing is one of your strengths!

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