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Gary Reed – Thumbs Up. Bruce Allen & Spanish Basketball, not so much

August 24, 2008

Did anyone catch Gary Reed’s noble come -from-behind surge that still fell a hairsbreadth short of bronze in the men’s 800 metres? As a writer-geek, with no pedigree of Olympic sport-watching, I was again enticed to see this high drama event, not just because of my husband’s obsession with track, but because of the inspiring story of Gary Reed.

Born in Corpus Christie, Texas, he roamed around BC, grew up in Kamloops and Vernon and now hails from Victoria. Gary’s personal story, like so many of our Canadian Olympic athletes, is one of overcoming the odds – he’s not had much contact with his Dad and credits his single mother for not only his upbringing but his drive to succeed. A “mixed-race” kid, growing up “dirt poor,” Reed’s confidence and grit just makes me want to ditch all my cynicism about creeping corporatism in the Olympic movement.

After his loss in the 800 metres, on-line reader comments were uniformly positive and interestingly, written as if Gary would be reading each one: That was an amazing race on your behalf, Gary. I know 4th place can seem hard to accept but less than 3/10ths from gold is right there”/”you are in inspiration and a role model”/”All Canadians are so proud of your hard work/”…

I’m guessing die-hard O watchers will know lots about the pain and fierce competition involved in track events at this level; and the 800 metres is legendary. Reed arranged for his mother and sister to be trackside for his race – he paid for their tickets, flights and hotel. And when he lost, he said, “I left it all on the track. No regrets.” You are a class act, Gary Reed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my “counterpart” (irony!) in diversity matters, Bruce Allen was at it again. Making excuses for the actions of the Spanish Olympic basketball team(s) – the story broke when veteran Guardian sports stringer, Sid Lowe, ran a short piece describing the pose for a pre-Games advertisement: there was Spain’s finest, hands up to their temples, some kind of index-finger “pulling at slanty eyes” thing going on.

The ensuing media storm garnered wide-spread attention in the U.S. and out in the blog-o-sphere debates raged about “affectionate gesture” v. “ethnocentric tastelessness” (my call). Then, wham, a “backlash” from some of the Spanish media, accusing Lowe and the “Anglo-Saxon” press of trying to “dirty Spain’s name.” Any of our readers follow this story closely? Please write in…

Oh. Yeah. About B.Allen: I’ve listened to his mini-rant several times (you have to join his radio station’s “club” in order to access the audio vault/8/20/08); as usual, I couldn’t quite follow his reasoning, but he seemed to suggest that “north American media” whine too much & are too wussy. In the wake of the predictable apology from the Spanish Olympic Team, Allen ended with a kick at “P.C.breath” and a sigh of “no harm, no foul.” Well. What do you think?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. corsullivan permalink*
    September 8, 2008 6:58 pm

    Ah, yes… guilty as charged… I should have imagined the Chinese team making their round-eyed gestures in Beijing or Xian before coming to Canada. But I think the basic point still holds.

    Here in China nicknames based on physical characteristics also seem to be fairly common, and they can have a bluntness that would be considered rude or even slightly cruel in Canada. An English friend also tells me that he once had a “mate” who was called Fat Dave by two different sets of friends – in one case because he was the fattest among the group, and in the other because he was the thinnest (that’s British irony for you). I suspect that much of the world is actually less inhibited than Canada and the U.S. when it comes to that sort of thing.

  2. melissa permalink
    September 8, 2008 6:21 pm

    Good point, Corsullivan, and an interesting picture that of a Chinese team making “round eyed” gestures. However, context is very important. A visiting Chinese team in a Canadian, white dominant city making such a gesture is not exactly the inverse scenario. Why, because they would then be a significant minority in a white community. They would be in a vulnerable position. In the case of the Spanish team, they did this from their own soil surrounded by people similar to themselves. Compare one schoolboy teasing a large group of children to the opposite scenario, a large group of children teasing one boy. I think what matters is who is in the more comfortable space when you regard the teasing.

    On the other hand, I think many people forget that culturally there are different norms with regards to acceptable humour or teasing. I have not been to Spain, but I did witness this phenomenon when I lived in Mexico. It was very common for the Mexicans to choose a physical characteristic and turn it into a nickname or a term of endearment. Giant, midget, whitey, darky, chubby, skeleton, Mr. Moustache, and Clarabelle Cow are just a few of the terms I encountered. Couples would lovingly call each other fatty or skinny. I was know as Big Melissa. At first I was shocked when I experienced this but then I noticed that it was never used as a behind-your-back kind of thing. It was only used among friends and close aquaintances as a friendly jibe. If someone really didn’t like someone else, they simply wouldn’t speak to them or would talk behind their back. Perhaps the ad was simply an innocent mistake.

    I think we must always stop and consider the intent behind someone’s actions. Surely they would not purposefully launch a very public racial attack on the host country before a competition. I do not think it was wise or forward thinking of them, but I think that perhaps too much has been read into it.

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    August 25, 2008 5:39 pm

    Renee — Missed Gary Reed’s surge, but it sounds like he had quite a race. In general, Canada seems to have managed a fairly solid performance at the Olympics this time round. Who would have thought?

    I don’t know if I’d call the artificially narrowed eyes of the Spanish basketball teams an “affectionate gesture”, but in my opinion “ethnocentric tastelessness” is an overreaction. Yes, the photo draws attention to a Chinese physical characteristic, but I don’t think this is necessarily insulting – there’s no implication that having narrow eyes is in any way negative.

    An interesting thought-experiment is to imagine Chinese athletes putting the shoe on the other foot. Would I feel offended if a Chinese basketball team showed up in a Canadian city with a population of mainly European ancestry (to keep things simple) and stretched the skin around their eyeballs vertically to simulate a round-eyed appearance for the cameras? I suppose I’d find it odd, a word I would also apply to the Spanish teams’ gesture, but I certainly wouldn’t be the least bit offended.

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