ESPN and Special Olympics Launching Multimedia Initiative, Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers

Special Olympics

ESPN and Special Olympics Launching Multimedia Initiative, Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers

  • Year-long storytelling initiative kicks off July 28 with hour-long documentary, hosted by Robin Roberts
  • Followed by 50 features – one per week for a year – on ESPN and Special Olympics media platforms, telling the stories of game changers and moments in movement toward inclusion

ESPN and Special Olympics are teaming up to launch a year-long storytelling initiative, Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers, that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics – a movement begun when Eunice Kennedy Shriver ignited the Inclusion Revolution with the first-ever Special Olympics Games in 1968. Produced by ESPN, the multimedia initiative will feature a 60-minute documentary special about the Special Olympics movement as well as 50 film shorts that tell the stories of the game changing people and moments that have helped drive and shape the movement by, from and for people with intellectual disabilities.

The initiative will kick off on July 28 on ABC at 2:30pm ET with Special Olympics: 50 Years of Changing the Game” — a 60-minute special documentary hosted by Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts, and continue for a year, with a new film short each week appearing across ESPN media platforms (including SportsCenter, the ESPN app and globally) and Special Olympics digital platforms. The Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers initiative will conclude in July 2019 with a one-hour special.

“After 50 years, Special Olympics is celebrating an anniversary, but celebrating more than disability rights, more than sports and fitness, more than games and heroes.   We are creating a call for people all over the world to join together in a celebration of inclusion, of justice, of joy, and of most of all unity,” shared Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics.  “The Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers series shows the world how Special Olympics athletes and those with intellectual disabilities are the greatest teachers of welcome, compassion and inclusion that the world and the times demand.”

Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President, ESPN International, added: “What once was a movement for people with intellectual disabilities has become a movement from them. This initiative is a marriage of ESPN’s proud 32-year relationship with Special Olympics and one of our company’s great strengths, powerful storytelling that will illuminate the people and moments of this movement. ESPN is thrilled and privileged that Special Olympics chose to partner with us on this important project.”

“Special Olympics: 50 Years of Changing the Game”
Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers, a 60-minute documentary special produced by ESPN and 728 films and directed by award-winning director Rudy Valdez, will look back at five decades of socio-cultural evolution, tipping points and historical context. In the past 50 year, what started as a summer camp hosted by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in her backyard has become a worldwide movement of understanding and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. That movement now includes five million athletes in 172 countries and millions of Unified Sports partners and is delivering valuable skills and education, year-round athletic play and training programs, medical treatment and much more. From Soldier Field in Chicago (the location of the inaugural Games in 1968), Roberts will bring viewers a look at how the progression occurred, set against the backdrop of Special Olympics’ Global Day of Inclusion (July 21, 2018). Multiple first-person interviews including Tim Shriver, Maria Shriver, Donna de Varona, Rafer Johnson, Loretta Claiborne, Daina Shilts, Eileen McNamara will help Roberts narrate the chronological journey through the 50-year story of Special Olympics.

“Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers” – 50 Documentary Film Shorts
Beginning in August, each week a new “Special Olympics: 50 Game Changers” film short will debut on ESPN media platforms, including SportsCenter, the ESPN App and globally and more. Working with multiple directors, producers and well-known artists, the stories will range from the four to seven minutes in length and tell the incredible stories of the game-changing people and moments that have helped advance the movement for inclusion and equality of people with intellectual disabilities.

Among the initial collection of stories are:

  • JAMAAL CHARLES –NFL running back and now Special Olympics Global Ambassador Jamaal Charles got his start in sports through Special Olympics and for years was nervous to share this about himself. He courageously took the stage at the 2015 World Games to present the Special Olympics Oath, an oath that only athletes can take. On live television, Charles revealed that he too was a Special Olympics athlete and #newrespect took Twitter by storm. That moment began #newrespect for Special Olympics athletes everywhere.
  • LA CASA DE CARLOTA – La Casa de Carlota, a Barcelona-based design studio that has hired people with Down syndrome, autism and intellectual disabilities as a means of creating truly differentiated and inspired design, and leading it to acclaim and success.
  • STEVE PERLMAN – In 1993, Dr. Steve Perlman and Eunice Kennedy Shriver met in Washington D.C. and discussed the lack of access to health care for people with intellectual disabilities. Existing health care systems and doctors often would not take patients or provide certain services to them. From their discussion, Special Olympics Special Smiles was born. It started small…originally just a presence at the Massachusetts Special Olympics State Games. Today it is a part of over 200 events, in every state and 60 countries. The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program provides much needed care and screenings for dental, hearing, vision, podiatry and physical therapy.
  • EUNICE & ROSEMARY – The relationship between Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her sister Rosemary Kennedy was the root of the entire Special Olympics movement. See the incredible, special relationship that helped create one woman’s vision for a world of inclusion.
  • GERALD MBALLE MBALLE -For refugee Gerald Mballe Mballe of Cameroon, “Playing Unified” meant a new chance for a new life. The 20-year-old refugee escaped violence and hardship in his homeland, but found it tough to fit in when he arrived in his new home, Italy. He felt more alone and isolated than ever. His path to truly establishing his new home, however, began with Special Olympics Unified Sports. In Unified Sports he found friendship and a new sense of belonging.

The broadcast series is made possible with the support of partners The Coca-Cola Company, the Walt Disney Company and Verizon.




Paul Melvin [email protected] or 860 766 5069
Teri Couch [email protected] or 860 766 4696

Special Olympics:
Mark Daley [email protected] or 202 824 0389



Teri Couch

I oversee our company archives and manage our media website (ESPN Press Room). I also help out with PR efforts around our partnership with Special Olympics.
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