An Act of Friendship

Carrying a Friend Over the Marathon Finish Line and the Media's Portrayal of Heroism

During Leeds Marathon on 14th May, Rob Burrow was carried over the finish line by his long-time friend Kevin Sinfield. The former Leeds Rhinos rugby player, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in late 2019, was pushed around the course by his former team-mate for 26.2 miles. With just metres to go, Sinfield lifted Burrow out of his specially adapted wheelchair and the pair completed the race together in an emotional conclusion. This act has stirred up controversy and ignited a broader conversation about disability, friendship, and the media's portrayal of heroism.  While some view this act as an inspiring display of friendship and support, others argue, that the media's framing of this event as heroic can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and overlook the larger issues faced by disabled individuals.

The media’s portrayal of an act of Compassion

This act captured the attention of the media, prompting widespread coverage and accolades for the friend's heroic gesture which has evoked mixed reactions. Supporters argue that highlighting this act of compassion sheds light on the power of friendship and challenges societal perceptions of disability. They assert that the media has the responsibility to showcase positive stories that inspire and promote empathy. By labelling the friend as a hero, they argue that it encourages others to be compassionate and inclusive towards disabled individuals.

Critics, however, caution against oversimplifying the narrative. They contend that framing this act as heroism overlooks the broader issues faced by disabled individuals in society. Disability rights advocates argue that the media's portrayal risks perpetuating the "super disabled" trope, which places disabled individuals on a pedestal for overcoming their disabilities, rather than addressing the systemic barriers and discrimination they encounter daily.

We asked our Kidz board for their thoughts on the issue.

“I think if it was pre-planned and he and his family agreed to be carried I’m here for that and it should be celebrated. If not, then it doesn’t sit right with me. It could be seen as a token gesture, taking the moment away from him whereas if he continued to be pushed within his chair it would have been an accomplishment for himself.”


“I didn’t like it. It came across ableist and feeds hugely into inspiration porn. I think it was perhaps well intentioned but ill thought-out.”


Shifting the Focus

Rather than exclusively highlighting the friend's actions as heroic, it is essential to shift the focus towards the broader context of disability rights and inclusivity. Disability should be seen as a social issue, and the media plays a crucial role in shaping public perceptions. By exploring the challenges faced by disabled individuals, the media can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of disability, while promoting equality and social change.

Promoting Authentic Representation

Authentic representation of disabled individuals is vital in dismantling stereotypes and misconceptions. While the media should celebrate acts of compassion, it is equally important to portray disabled individuals as individuals with agency, strengths, and diverse experiences. The media should provide a platform for disabled voices and highlight their accomplishments in various areas, including sports, academia, arts, and activism. This multifaceted representation can help challenge prevailing narratives and create a more inclusive society.

Encouraging Meaningful Discourse

The controversy surrounding this act presents an opportunity for meaningful dialogue about the challenges faced by disabled individuals, the importance of accessibility, and the role of friendship and support. Rather than simplifying the narrative as a heroic act, the media should engage in responsible journalism by providing space for disabled voices and fostering conversations about systemic issues, such as equal access to opportunities, healthcare, and employment.

None of this takes away from the good work the pair have been doing for the MND Charity, raising money and awareness. While celebrating acts of friendship, it is crucial for the media to move beyond simplistic narratives and promote a more nuanced understanding of disability. By highlighting the broader issues faced by disabled individuals and providing authentic representation, the media can contribute to a more inclusive society that recognizes and supports the rights and experiences of all.