Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Changing times

I've written before (here and here) about my respect for the exuberant Canadian cross-country skier Chandra Crawford. It's a case where I'm glad not to know too much about someone in the public eye; one of the worst manifestations of the celebrity culture is the demystification of people one could otherwise admire. There are those who say we need to know the truth about, say, Babe Ruth, that his whoring and drinking were an integral part of understanding him as an athlete and a man, but most of those people are trying to sell newspapers and magazines.

I haven't had an athlete as a true hero since I was a real little kid; I always kind of got that these were real people who ought to be respected for their accomplishments, but that one couldn't invest any more of one's soul than could be discarded. There are actually two threads here: athletes are people too, with the same flaws as any other people (and, I came to learn, in many cases more flawed because of the bubble we put them in from the time their talent is recognized); and they are not necessarily more admirable than other people, just a lot more famous.

Perhaps part of this clear-eyed (or cynical, take your pick) view came from my early involvement in math competitions, where it dawned on me quite quickly that the third-teamer in football would forever receive more accolades and social acceptance than the state champion in math. So, while I greatly enjoy sports and admire the accomplishments of the participants, I have never abandoned myself in the process.

So (and we are getting closer to the point of this post) to Chandra Crawford, who is probably a fairly typical 24-year-old who happened to be born with a high maximal oxygen uptake and was fortunate enough to live a trail's length away from an Olympic training center (centre). But she is not a big celebrity in the United States, and so receives very little attention - I am free to enjoy what she does, her apparent attitude toward it (which is marvelous), and her charming writing at her web site.

But here's the thing that shows me how much times have changed: in Chandra's most recent post of 6/23, she writes about how well things are going for her. She has an "awesome new coach," her training is fine as she builds toward a home-country Olympics in 2010, and, oh yes, "my boyfriend Devon has moved in with me in Canmore."

I'm sure that, if you're of a certain age, this is unremarkable to you, that cohabitation would be tossed oh-so-casually into a blog post or essay. But I am just old enough to remember when no one lived together (well, they did, but it was mostly Bohemian types), and it certainly wasn't something that would be publicized. I'm pretty certain that this revelation won't hurt Chandra's Canadian hero status (and it shouldn't), but it was not so very long ago that it probably would. While we may have a way to go before we iron out every social issue, we shouldn't forget that we've made great progress in accepting changes in race, sexual roles, status, that would have seemed impossible just two or three decades ago. It seems slow if you're living through it, particularly if you're affected by whatever lingering difficulties exist, but, on a human time scale, it's actually going very fast.

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