Legendary Athlete Born Without Legs Headlines Abilities Expo
By Dave Stevens, Dave Stevens Speaks and Prostanz Ability Camp
It's Ironic that after a 40 year plus career in broadcasting and sports... I get to return home to Arizona to help support the Abilities Expo. I grew up in an era that didn't support the disabled community and I had to use what little ability I had to succeed.
Did I mention I was born without legs? Yes, it's true, despite what many consider a handicap, I have lived an amazing life that any able-bodied human would envy.
Dave Stevens Makes History in High School, Collegiate and Professional Sports
How did I get my big break? I'm glad you asked, you see, I also played 3 sports in high school in Wickenburg, Arizona. I was the only legless baseball, football and wrestler in state history. That led to an appearance in 1982 on an ABC show called That's Incredible!, a reality program that showcased unique and inspiring stories. Before 30 million viewers (there were only 3 networks in those days), I told Fran Tarkenton and America that I wanted to replace Howard Cosell. (Google him – he was a legend!)
As an athlete, I made NCAA history as the only person without legs to play three seasons of college football at Augsburg University from. I also signed a spring training contract in 1996 and played three weeks of baseball with the St. Paul Saints. My teammates were none other than MLB legend Darryl Strawberry and Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris. I got to start one game at second base, and even pinch hit for Strawberry after a three-home run game. Stevens tried out for the Minnesota Twins in 1983 and 1984, as well as the Dallas Cowboys in 1990.
Flash forward to current days and I've now covered 25 Super Bowls, 3 World Series. I won 7 National Sports Emmys during my 20 years at ESPN and I have traveled to almost every sports venue.
Looking back on it now, it seems pretty crazy and unrealistic that someone with a disability could succeed in the world of journalism.
Dave Breaks Barrier in Media Despite Historical Dearth of Opportunity for Disabled
Because historically and with the statistics to back it up, most people with seen and unseen disabilities don't get opportunities in television, film and media across the board.
Think back to the history of television and film. Virtually any character who is portrayed with a handicap is generally played by an able-bodied actor. From Raymond Burr portraying a detective in a wheelchair in the late 60's to Daniel Day Lewis winning an Oscar in 1989 for his work in My Left Foot as an artist and writer. There have been very few actors with an actual disability that are written into the story line.
ABC's Life Goes On was a family drama in the early 90's that focused around "Corky" played by Chris Burke, who became the first major character with Down Syndrome. Breaking Bad also had RJ Mitte portray Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) son. Mitte has Cerebral Palsy.
Despite a few roles and cameos for disabled actors, those examples have been few and far between until recently. Those are examples for on-camera opportunities, but the behind-the-scenes roles—like writer, producer, camera operator, set design, etc.—still don't offer many jobs for the disabled.
Hollywood and television has made a concerted effort to create a more accepting role for our world. If you notice any ad these days, you will see someone in a wheelchair, missing a limb or has some sort of visual impairment. While this is a good start, it needs to become universal in all aspects of media.
In 2022 CODA, a film with primarily deaf actors, won the Oscar for the best picture and Troy Kotsur became the first deaf male actor to win an academy award for best supporting actor. That success has led to more Television shows and movies to include more disabled actors in the storylines.
I don't really have an answer as to why it's been such a battle to have equal opportunities in media. I realize that I am the exception rather than the rule when it comes to a successful career in media or journalism.
Dave's Success Secret: If There Isn't a Path, Make One
My key to success was always knowing that I had to be better than everyone else. I knew people would judge me or feel sorry for me because I had no legs, but I had to get past that and prove I knew what I was doing. Not many 17-year-old kids with all their body parts get that opportunity and I had to make the most of mine.
It meant I did my homework for every task assigned and to set myself apart from all of the "able-bodied" competition. It gave me the confidence to talk to the biggest stars in the world and not be intimidated. It also led to 7 Emmy's that don't say on the label, "Given to Dave because he has no legs." No, I earned those awards by having a high work ethic at ESPN.
I guess the only way we can change the mentality of the consumer, or the business world, is for someone to take a chance on someone with a seen or unseen disability and stick by them. We have seen the national fallout and attention from a Bud Light ad featuring a transgender spokesperson, so why can't we have someone from the disabled world also get those type of opportunities.
That's why I helped create Ability Media at Quinnipiac University—it is a program to share original content and stories about the disabled world as told by those with disabilities. We have been in operation for about three years, and I help teach and guide those students to shoot for their dreams in Media and hopefully have the success I had. We have been to two Super Bowls and countless other momentous events side-by-side with other journalists.
You can't teach confidence to someone with a disability, but you can give them the tools to grow and become a success.
I have been so lucky and blessed to do what I do, and as a motivational speaker and TV host I try to continue to lead by example and I hope that others out there see what I do and will give others the chance to do what I did.
As I always say… "If they are going to stare at us for being different… we might as well give them a show."
We've come a long way for inclusivity, but we still have a long way until mainstream society will accept us!
And now that I am working closely with the team at Abilities Expo—we can make more headway to allow everyone to have opportunities to chase their dreams!
ProStantz Ability Football Camp Makes Abilities Expo Debut
I'm teaming up with former ASU Hall of Fame & NFL kicker, Luis Zendejas, to appear at the Dave Stevens Prostantz Ability football camp Sunday, September 10th at 11:45am as part of the Abilities Expo.
Also, on hand for the clinic will be Wickenburg Assistant Coach Carter Crosland who was born without arms and legs and is the only limb different coach in Arizona High School History.
In this exciting new event, youth of all levels of ability will run drills, pass the ball, score a touchdown and discover the sport of football. We can't wait and hope you will come on down to Abilities Expo and join us.Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!