Feb 282010
 

When I was studying psychology, back in the last century, in the less-enlightened-than-now era, we talked about not labelling patients and not calling patients patients but clients. The idea was that because of assumptions over the ages, we didn’t want to further marginalize people through diagnostic labels, didn’t want to give people a reason to separate those with mental illnesses from mainstream society. The same idea holds true for those with disabilities; hence the continuing change of terminology from crippled to handicapped to disabled to differently-abled. I would say that the Brian McKeever situation shows the mainstream still holds certain people at arm’s length.

During my neurorehab after my closed head injury, I was told that many people with brain injuries are talked down to, discriminated against because of the label “brain injury.” I never really experienced that, only from a couple of people I don’t see much anymore (wonder why), until after I settled my lawsuit and after I had applied for brain injury community services and got involved with the Brain Injury Society of Toronto. There was the extra assessment required by CCAC; there was the OT who dissed me, probably thinking brain injury = crappy short term memory, so what the hey; there’s the idea in the air that what I’m striving for is, well, amazing cause who with brain injuries can achieve. I’m not sure how to describe this attitude, but it’s like people with brain injuries are expected to need help scheduling mailing a letter but not with scheduling big jobs like writing a blog. There’s no sense of having mainstream society goals or mainstream society ideas or living in the mainstream as just another member of that society. But people with brain injuries aren’t the only ones dissed: people missing legs, eyesight, hearing are also considered less than.

And so when Brian McKeever was taken off the Canadian 50k cross-country classic team, many assumed it was because he was a token member anyway, that the others were faster, just like the coaches said, and that any complaint of discrimination was just same-old BS. It was amazing so few, including journalists (but then the obvious questions always seem to zip over their heads), parsed what was actually said and asked the coach point blank if he was saying that McKeever had been slower in the 50k than the other skiers for the past year or two or asked if any of the others were 50k specialists like McKeever or why favour sprinters over the 50k guy. It didn’t help that so few Canadians – and journalists – understand what the 50k requires and that it’s not the 30k or the sprints or that the classic style is much harder for some of the Canadian skiers. The assumption was that the blind guy didn’t really have a chance anyway because of his very blindness. And then people divided into two camps: I’m disabled (or not) and I should only ski if qualified, ignoring the fact that he did qualify; or let him ski anyway because of the history making and because of the inspiration of his story. Oy vey.

But these Olympics have fired up Canadians. They’d been looking forward to seeing McKeever ski and were outraged he wasn’t and vented on Twitter and Facebook. Canadians felt the coaches shamed, embarrassed, disgraced, and disappointed Canada. Some believed they used McKeever to fire up interest in their sport without ever intending to let him race. More and more people noticed that the guy’s times are competitive, that he has as much right to be part of mainstream society, of mainstream cross-country skiing as any of the others, that the real issue is that he earned his spot to be in that race and that by being in it he also would have inspired so many to realise that they really are no different from the mainstream and would have inspired the mainstream to realise that those different people are really the same as them.

And maybe that’s ultimately why he was taken out, though they said they took him out for the sake of cross country, for sake of putting it on the map for medal contention. Hardly. McKeever skiing in that race and doing well would’ve opened the door to others following in his wake. Letting the outsider in takes courage and foresight. Eliminating the connotations of those labels and seeing the person who is really in front of them takes an open mind. Women have always had to excel beyond what is required by and done by men to prove they belong. It’s no different for athletes like McKeever. Unfortunately.

In the end the race results proved the McKeever supporters right. Only one, Devon Kershaw, got close to the medal; one made tactical errors to be in first then dropped off, unless the idea was that he’d be Kershaw’s inspiration for as long as possible; the last two were nowhere to be found. And for that, they lost the opportunity to see what McKeever could do and fire up the nation for cross country skiing.

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  • Chris

    I feel badly for Brian as I’d feel badly for any competitor that didn’t make the team, but I think it was the right decision to make. If the other guys were performing better at Olympics-time, and that’s the criteria by which those deicions are made, then I’m in full support. Brain, himself, would understand I’m sure.

    The real essence of being non-discriminatory is to remove barriers and get the heck out of the way; we do Brian and many others a disservice if we treat them differently, outside of accommodations that they request themselves.

    Some have suggested that Brian should have been allowed to compete because of the heartwarming nature of the story, but that thinking reduces Brian to a prop in a selfish feel-good play and does nothing at all for him, just for us. He’s a competitor and he’ll keep training, keep working and he’ll kick some ass.

    We just need to get out of his way.

  • Chris

    I feel badly for Brian as I’d feel badly for any competitor that didn’t make the team, but I think it was the right decision to make. If the other guys were performing better at Olympics-time, and that’s the criteria by which those deicions are made, then I’m in full support. Brain, himself, would understand I’m sure.

    The real essence of being non-discriminatory is to remove barriers and get the heck out of the way; we do Brian and many others a disservice if we treat them differently, outside of accommodations that they request themselves.

    Some have suggested that Brian should have been allowed to compete because of the heartwarming nature of the story, but that thinking reduces Brian to a prop in a selfish feel-good play and does nothing at all for him, just for us. He’s a competitor and he’ll keep training, keep working and he’ll kick some ass.

    We just need to get out of his way.

  • Shireen

    The coaches did not get out of his way. I found it odd that they talked about the racers’ times for the other races as if they were relevant to the 50k. The 50k requires endurance and tactical experience. As Canadians have come on to the cross-country scene, they’ve been doing well in the shorter, faster races, but not the classic 50k. In fact, the classic has remained difficult for Canucks. Only McKeever had specialised in the classic 50k. It seems odd to me that they’d leave out a 50k specialist and base their chances on how well one did in a sprint. Would you put a 100m racer in a marathon? Hardly. Even the 10k is not considered the same as a marathon and no one would ever say a 10k winner is going to do well in a marathon based on a 10k win. They’d have to have shown that they can do well in the marathon before the 10k win.

    Harvey, though a prodigy, was already showing fatigue in shorter races and lack of tactical experience. It’s not surprising he ended up in the 30s. Two of the racers had been slower in the 50k than McKeever and at least one had little experience in it, hadn’t even raced it in all of 2009. How do you train for a 50k if you never race it in the year before the Olympics? If people who follow cross-country could see some of these poor results happening, why not the coaches? I don’t say McKeever should’ve been in it just for the inspiration but because he was a specialist and had earned the spot.

    So yeah, coaches and some Canadians did McKeever a disservice by being discriminatory and treated him differently. He knew it, which you can see if you listen to what he says.

  • Shireen

    The coaches did not get out of his way. I found it odd that they talked about the racers’ times for the other races as if they were relevant to the 50k. The 50k requires endurance and tactical experience. As Canadians have come on to the cross-country scene, they’ve been doing well in the shorter, faster races, but not the classic 50k. In fact, the classic has remained difficult for Canucks. Only McKeever had specialised in the classic 50k. It seems odd to me that they’d leave out a 50k specialist and base their chances on how well one did in a sprint. Would you put a 100m racer in a marathon? Hardly. Even the 10k is not considered the same as a marathon and no one would ever say a 10k winner is going to do well in a marathon based on a 10k win. They’d have to have shown that they can do well in the marathon before the 10k win.

    Harvey, though a prodigy, was already showing fatigue in shorter races and lack of tactical experience. It’s not surprising he ended up in the 30s. Two of the racers had been slower in the 50k than McKeever and at least one had little experience in it, hadn’t even raced it in all of 2009. How do you train for a 50k if you never race it in the year before the Olympics? If people who follow cross-country could see some of these poor results happening, why not the coaches? I don’t say McKeever should’ve been in it just for the inspiration but because he was a specialist and had earned the spot.

    So yeah, coaches and some Canadians did McKeever a disservice by being discriminatory and treated him differently. He knew it, which you can see if you listen to what he says.

  • Chris

    I don’t know as much about the sport as you seem to, but it seems to me you’re questioning a coaching decision and claiming its discriminatory. Where exactly does the discrimination come in? What’s your proof for this? A hunch? A desire for a Hollywood ending?

    As I read it, the four who raced were all ranked higher than Brian internationally and were all performing particularly well in their immediately previous competitions.

  • Chris

    I don’t know as much about the sport as you seem to, but it seems to me you’re questioning a coaching decision and claiming its discriminatory. Where exactly does the discrimination come in? What’s your proof for this? A hunch? A desire for a Hollywood ending?

    As I read it, the four who raced were all ranked higher than Brian internationally and were all performing particularly well in their immediately previous competitions.

  • Shireen

    As I said, performing in events that are not like the 50k are not indicative of how well they’ll do in the 50k. Plus that meant they’d be tired whereas McKeever was fresh and has been training specifically for the 50k. Why is it assumed that though they did unexpectedly well, McKeever couldn’t? Unlike the others, including the long shots for the other races, McKeever had no chance to race at all. Just as others question coaching decisions in hockey games, I think it’s perfectly fine for me and others to judge ones for cross-country, particularly as I’ve said before that the coaches used McKeever to increase the profile of the sport in the Olympics but seemed to have no intention of racing him. It was a bit duplicitous and got the entire world pumped up.

    I don’t know where in my words you’d get any idea that I have a desire for a Hollywood ending. No such thing exists. My desire is for the right thing to be done. People seem to come to this on the assumption that he’s blind, ergo can’t be as good as the others. As the post I linked to showed, he’s competitive, and unlike the others, he specializes in the 50k and has been training for this for years. I don’t know why you’d assume a coach was not being discriminatory when coaches normally put the specialists in the races they specialize in, normally take out fatigued racers and put in fresh ones. Neither was done here.

  • Shireen

    As I said, performing in events that are not like the 50k are not indicative of how well they’ll do in the 50k. Plus that meant they’d be tired whereas McKeever was fresh and has been training specifically for the 50k. Why is it assumed that though they did unexpectedly well, McKeever couldn’t? Unlike the others, including the long shots for the other races, McKeever had no chance to race at all. Just as others question coaching decisions in hockey games, I think it’s perfectly fine for me and others to judge ones for cross-country, particularly as I’ve said before that the coaches used McKeever to increase the profile of the sport in the Olympics but seemed to have no intention of racing him. It was a bit duplicitous and got the entire world pumped up.

    I don’t know where in my words you’d get any idea that I have a desire for a Hollywood ending. No such thing exists. My desire is for the right thing to be done. People seem to come to this on the assumption that he’s blind, ergo can’t be as good as the others. As the post I linked to showed, he’s competitive, and unlike the others, he specializes in the 50k and has been training for this for years. I don’t know why you’d assume a coach was not being discriminatory when coaches normally put the specialists in the races they specialize in, normally take out fatigued racers and put in fresh ones. Neither was done here.

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