Confused about Independence? Parade Anyway!

One of many Norman Rockwell illustrations that tweak American values. Image from Saturday Evening Post.

Maybe the United States was always just people who liked to party! Looking at the history of why this day is celebrated, July 4th in particular, I came across many pictures of people marching, making speeches, and eating, but also so many claims that were kinda sorta not quite right. Maybe it’s buried in our history (oh, in everybody’s history) to blur those pesky details and bring on the fireworks.

To digress a moment, last in night in Zumba class, our instructor as usual picked something inspirational to stretch at the end. She likes themes of “celebrate yourself” or “be good to others”; Bob Marley works well. Last night, she decided to play “God Bless the USA,” because it was the day before July 4th. But that song is a jingoistic, uber-Christian celebration of the military. She even interjected at the end, perhaps sensing the over-the-topness of the sentiment– “the world, too, not just the USA” — but of course that misses the point of the song, which is that America is Number One and Everyone Can Suck It Because They Don’t Have Our Freedoms. And I’m looking around at a room, full of the diversity of the East Bay (Asian, Latino, Russian, Black, White, and all things between), 100% full of people whose ancestors were immigrants. We do all bless the U.S.A., but NOT for the reasons that the singer was espousing. This is SUCH a confusing country. Yet, from the time we declared Independence Day, the people in this country were always going in multiple directions at the same time, so maybe it all fits.

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Getting in the Game

(Clockwise, left): Sha’Carri Richardson, Ryan Crouse, Colin Duffy, and Jess Davis going to Paris. Photos from AP,,, and USAPenathlon.

NBC is marketing their end-of-June Road to Paris coverage of the swimming, sprinting, and gymnastics USA Olympics Trials by calling it “the toughest team” to make. It’s probably true. But not in the way that they mean. Some slots on Team USA are extremely hard to make. Some are under the glare of some very bright spotlights. If you, budding Olympic athlete, participate in one of the marquee sports for U.S. on prime time, then you have to do your sport while everyone’s watching, and with cameras shoved in your face.

But there are 48 sports, with 329 separate events, scheduled for the Summer Games. Once you factor out swimming, track and field, gymnastics, and basketball–the sports that are talked about incessantly–that leaves 44 more. It can also be hard to be one of the best in the world in a discipline that garners almost no attention and little support. What if you’re on a U.S. team that is going for a four-peat and no one outside your sport even knows that it’s played? Or worse–what if you have no chance of medaling? And the only people watching you qualify share your last name because they’re you’re family? That might be just as tough.

Suppose you’re really popular *coff Caitlin Clark* but you don’t get a slot. Don’t the teams just choose whoever they like? it’s not that simple. There are rules for who gets to compete.

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The Disney Treatment

A mix of reality, falsehood, emotional manipulation, and darned good storytelling. Photo is Disney promo materials.

If you see the new biopic Young Woman and the Sea–and I do recommended you see it–you should be aware that the actual James Sullivan, head of the American Athletic Union, was dead twelve years before the key events in the movie take place. It’s what ticks me off about these sports movies. What happened is fascinating in its own right, so why do they make up stuff? Why do they have to create false emotional tension, when the real tension is already in the story? And why do I cry every time when the athlete does the thing that I knew that they would do, all along?

Young Woman and the Sea is one of three Disney sports movies that I particularly like, the other two being Dangal and McFarland USA. All three might be termed shamelessly manipulative, but perhaps that’s the nature of our response to humans overcoming obstacles. In this post, I will point out some of the good and the bad about these movies, set the record straight for the “um, actually” crowd, but still give these all a thumb’s up. They deserve watching.

Historical Inaccuracy

Young Woman is about Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926. Without giving away too many spoilers, fact checking of the movie details reveals that Trudy did have a near-death case of the measles as a child (vaccinate people!), she did swim with her sister, and her “coaches” did work to disqualify her in her Channel swim, though not the way the movie showed. And she did have a giant ticker tape parade, one of the biggest ever in New York.

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