Brian Bell competes at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on Sept. 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
When NBCSN and the Olympic Channel showcase 58 hours of Paralympic coverage over the next month, including some of the greatest moments from the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and the 2019 world championships in Para swimming and Para track and field, it will be another step forward for U.S. Paralympians to share the spotlight with their Olympic counterparts.
“The biggest obstacle we have with Paralympic sport is getting more people to see it,” said Brian Bell, a member of Team USA’s wheelchair basketball squad that won gold at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
While the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 have been postponed until next year, NBC Sports will instead take a look back to highlight Paralympic sports and athletes in primetime coverage. The network’s Paralympic programming kicks off Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET with the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball gold-medal games from Rio, both won by Team USA, in addition to swimming highlights. Thursday will follow with Team USA’s victory in the women’s sitting volleyball gold-medal match, the best of track and field and the wheelchair rugby gold-medal match from Rio. Fans can then also watch replay coverage of the most recent para swimming and track and field world championships on the Olympic Channel during the weeks of June 29 and July 6.
For Bell, the Rio rewind will bring back his favorite Paralympic memory: helping the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team capture its first gold medal since the Paralympic Games Seoul 1988.
“Of course the best memory from Rio is winning,” said Bell. “Besides that, it’s how we won as a team. We had a long road before getting to the gold-medal game. It was a 28-year gap since the USA men’s team won a gold medal in the sport at the Paralympics.”
Reminiscing about Rio is a welcomed bright spot these days for Bell, who’s just returning to training in Germany following the COVID-19 pandemic, while also trying to educate his four young bi-racial children about racism and social justice. He has been speaking with his children about what to do if they interact with the police, knowing their rights and how to keep safe, and empowering them to speak up loudly when they are disrespected or made to feel uncomfortable.
“It’s good for them to learn earlier rather than later,” said Bell. “I have to talk to my kids more in detail because they’re seeing these things on TV. I must be able to mentor them through it and explain to them why this is happening so they can understand and react. In case they’re ever in that type of situation, then they can positively handle it.”
Bell grew up a Black male in Alabama, and at the age of 10 became a below-the-knee amputee after losing his right leg in a train accident. Finding wheelchair basketball during rehabilitation took him out of his underserved community and opened up opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
It gave him a platform. A voice.
Now, he wants to use that voice to help others in the Black community, particularly the next generation.
“I need to have a voice for those who don’t have opportunities,” said Bell.
“I’m disabled and Black … Most people see me being disabled first, and after that being Black is secondary,” said Bell. “Basketball has helped a lot. I’m fortunate enough to have basketball otherwise I’d be in certain situations that other Blacks have been in. Basketball has provided a tremendous opportunity for me, allowing me to live in Germany for this long and travel internationally overseas. But not everyone has that opportunity, so it’s a chance now for me to speak out as an ambassador through sports.”
Thanks to NBC Sports, children around the country will have another opportunity to see one of Team USA’s most talented Black athletes this week at the top of his game.
And if Bell can inspire one child out there — whether it be his own or someone else’s — then we will all end up on the other side of this year a little bit stronger, he said.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.