VALPARAISO, Ind. — If life is one big March Madness bracket, Jason Benetti jokes, he was born a 13 seed.
The White Sox play-by-play broadcaster was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which impacts his balance and mobility, at a young age.
“I was born an underdog,” Benetti told attendees during a recent presentation at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Even as a kid, Benetti always had an affinity for the NCAA basketball tournament, especially when a long-shot team would pull off an upset.
“It never really hit me why it mattered so much to me until last year,” he said.
The 39-year-old said he finally realized that it’s because he can relate.
“I totally get where they’re coming from,” Benetti said. “I’m the underdog. … I walk around the world, and people assume something about me.”
Despite being born an underdog, Benetti said, it was the people around him, the people who saw his potential and pushed him to do more, that helped him pull off his own metaphorical upset.
First it was his third grade teacher, who would let him grade papers after school while he waited for his grandma. Then it was the middle school basketball coach who made him assistant coach, and then the high school band instructor who put Benetti behind a microphone and had him announce the upcoming sets.
“Every step of the way, there was somebody who said, ‘You’re more than just a really cool story; you’re more than somebody we just want to give something to,’” Benetti said. “They tried to find things that would make me whole, make me fulfilled.”
Benetti has also had to navigate plenty of less-than-fulfilling situations. Having a visible disability, Benetti said passersby often make assumptions about him, constantly offering help he doesn’t need and talking down to him.
To bring awareness to these interactions, Benetti partnered with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation for an animated video series called “Awkward Moments with Jason Benetti.” The short clips highlight some of the misconceptions people with disabilities deal with on a daily basis.
“Having a disability is a constant hum that spikes in volume whenever we encounter somebody who hasn’t encountered it very much,” Benetti explained.
The Ivy Tech presentation was one of several events organized as part of Valparaiso’s recognition of March as Disability Awareness Month.
“One in four people has a disability,” Mayor Matt Murphy said. “These people are our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers. We intend to continue listening and working to improve programs and services better serving our entire community.”
Benetti noted that despite making up 25% of the population, there are very few people with disabilities on TV.
“There are artists out there, there are actors out there, there are comedians out there, there are people who know how to do great stuff and they just get weeded out because nobody encourages (them),” Benetti said. “Go be that person who asks for more of the person with a disability.”
© 2023 The Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop’s free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.