God Bless Mebmerica
When Meb Keflezighi won the NYC marathon Sunday, headlines screamed that it was the first American victory since the 1980s. Yet for some, including CNBC Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell, Mr. Keflezighi is not American enough. According to Mr. Rovell, Meb "is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he's not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies... Keflezighi's country of origin is Eritrea, a small country in Africa. He is 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."
First of all, we're a nation of immigrants. Where do we draw the line on who we call a "real" American? What if Meb was born here but his parents were immigrants? Or their parents? What if his family emigrated the day before he was born? Then would it be OK with Mr. Rovell if Meb draped himself in old glory?
I certainly understand why some people take issue with athletes who become world class runners elsewhere and then choose to become American citizens as a business decision. For instance, Bernard Lagat was born and raised in Kenya, won medals in the World Championships and Olympics for Kenya, came here for college and became an American citizen in 2004. I root for Lagat, but can't feel all warm and fuzzy as an American when he wins. Meb is different. He did not come to this country to be a runner, and this country did not bring him here because of his athletic talent.
In fact, Meb's family came here as refugees when he was a child. He was not a runner in Eritrea. He is the product of an American high school and an American university (UCLA). If Rovell wanted to use an accurate analogy, Meb would not be the ringer brought in to play for the softball team, he would be the accountant who is hired based on his credentials and earns his keep, who came to the softball team practices and became the star through a combination of talent and hard work.
Did Rovell or others object when Patrick Ewing was a member of the Dream Team, representing the United States in the Olympics? Mr. Ewing came to America at age 12 - just like Meb. Would he be upset if this American citizen's name was Bob Jones instead of Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi? Certainly it can't - as some have suggested - be because Meb has genetic gifts. I hope no one is suggesting that being 7-feet tall isn't a genetic advantage in basketball.
Meb Keflezighi is a true American success story, and a true American. The ignorance of a CNBC columnist, or anyone else who ignores the facts does not change that.