November 4, 2009

How American Are You, Mebrahtom Keflezighi?

This has been hashed over at the New York Times (great article here) and Deadspin, but I can't hesitate to throw something together on here.

This past Sunday, an American runner by the name of Mebrahtom Keflezighi won the New York City Marathon.  He became the first American to win the race since Alberto Salazar in 1982.  Many, however, including CNBC and SportsBiz reporter Darren Rovell, called it an empty win for the good ol' U.S.A.  In post from Monday, Rovell noted that Meb is not actually American-born and that "takes away from the magnitude of the achievement."

This is because Meb was born in Eritrea and is, by Rovell's standards, only an "American citizen thanks to taking a test and living in our country.  Nothing against Keflezighi, but he's like a ringer who you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league."

This rush to judgment became a serious cause for concern when, on Tuesday, Rovell was forced to backtrack on his words.  In his post, Rovell accepts that "Meb didn't deserve [the ringer] comparison and I apologize for that."

Considering that virtually all of Meb's running training came as an American citizen, the entire episode - chronicled thoroughly by the New York Times article linked above - raises some interesting questions...especially considering the overwhelming negativity of the comments left by some in some online news articles.

These questions range:
  • What makes someone American-enough?
  • What does Meb's race and birth have to do with his acceptance as an elite athlete?
  • Why does society assume that Africans are naturally dominant long-distance runners?
Sadly, it seems that some of the same questions that have haunted President Obama can be applied to Meb, with the undertone of racism coming to the fore.  All of that talk about the post-racial age we thought we entered in November 2008, seems to be just talk.  For while it would be nice to imagine that we live in a different age, the reality is that events such as these continue to occur.  Lest we forget the Birther Movement or the reverse-racism claims against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Ultimately, it seems that these events allow for racism unspoken to manifest itself in troubling ways.

1 comment:

  1. It's incredible how people who work for a promiment news station can make completely ignorant and unresearched statements. Ignoring the fact that he was wrong about where Meb trained, I take issue with the concept that someone's achievements are worth more or less depending on where they were born.

    There shouldn't be shades of citizenship - you either are or are not an American citizen. The view that people who come here and receive citizenship are lesser Americans because of their birthplace is just ridiculous.