For those of you who don’t know who Dave Stevens is, perhaps the best way to describe him is as a true iconoclast. Being born a congenital amputee, he is unique in the pantheon of sports having been the only athlete without legs to play both college football and minor league baseball. His continued tenacity pushed him in the direction of tryouts with various professional clubs including the Cincinnati Reds, the Minnesota Twins, and the Dallas Cowboys. He was even invited to try out with Olympic Baseball where he played in the outfield with several former Major Leaguers.
As his sports journey continued, he quickly pivoted from athlete to journalist. Stevens worked at ESPN for over 20 years serving as a coverage editor and an assignment desk manager where he covered numerous Super Bowls, World Series, and NCAA Final Fours among other various sporting events giving him tremendous gravitas having earned 7 National Sports Emmy’s. Today, Stevens continues his work as a Motivational Speaker and adjunct professor as director of Ability Media at the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University in New Haven Connecticut. Despite his many accolades and accomplishments in the world of sport, perhaps too many to list in this column, it is the man himself that is most intriguing. During this month where we commemorate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), it is important to revisit Dave Stevens the man, and see how he is a new archetypal model for the disability community that can have a profound impact across the corporate environment for years to come.
When speaking with Stevens one gets the sense of the true authenticity that this man espouses. He understands that he holds a certain amount of responsibility to set an example for not only the broader disability community but to society at large. He believes that part of his mission is to “break the stereotypes of what it means to be handicapped or disabled.” He believes that it was sports that changed his life and gave him the motivation to see himself through the lens of normality, in fact implying that those that didn’t see him that way were the ones with the problem. Stevens views his disability as a blessing where he could impact people through his example while highlighting the enormous potential of those who have been marginalized.
Mr. Stevens’s worldview is indicative of the changing nature of disability itself. It is through his own life experience that he not only challenges the stigma of disability but redefines it completely. He offers corporate leadership a very real glimpse into defining what can be, rather than what is. As Stevens articulates in his motivational talks, he suggests that by putting yourself in his shoes and learning from his example one can discover the possibilities of what life has to offer in place of the barriers in front of them. Stevens is the epitome of an innovator; he saw the challenges ahead and found the best solution to discover success.
During this time of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), it is this type of innovative spirit that is needed more than ever to help galvanize organizations to rethink their overall business strategy and embrace it with the hustle and moxie that is such a part of Dave Steven’s character. We need people like him to be a key stakeholder at the table and provide corporations a new way to think about disability, employment, and the business culture of the 21st Century.