November 03, 2009

CNBC Reporter: Marathon Champ Isn't Real American: Meb Keflezighi, a 34-year-old runner who emigrated to San Diego, Calif., in 1987 from war-ridden Eritrea, became the first American to win the New York Marathon since 1982. Keflezighi, who became a U.S. citizen in 1998, also medaled for the country at the 2004 Olympics. But he's only "technically American," CNBC reporter Darren Rovell blogged on Monday. "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."

posted by rcade to olympics at 01:05 PM - 28 comments

It's hard for me to interpret this as anything other than a jingoistic rant. From the article:

The positive sign was that some American-born runners did extremely well in yesterday's men's race.

If any of them stand on the top step of the podium in Central Park one day, that's when I'll break out my red, white and blue.

posted by mikemacman at 01:36 PM on November 03

Wow. As one of the commenters there noted, Darren Rovell is technically an asshole. That's the kind of nativist BS that you'd expect to hear on right-wing radio. While there are unquestionably ringers in international sport -- Brazilian Georgians in beach volleyball, Kenyans who now run for Qatar, etc. -- Keflezighi clearly doesn't fit into that category.

Having been smacked around by commenters, Rovell has walked back his earlier piece, though his claim that "I never said he didn't deserve to be called American" rings fairly hollow. As someone said in comments to that piece, if the marathon had been won by a guy who'd emigrated from Dublin or Milan as a kid, I can't imagine hearing him being described as "technically American". To dig the hole deeper, Rovell says this:

I said that Keflezighi's win, the first by an American since 1982, wasn't as big as it was being made out to be because there was a difference between being an American-born product and being an American citizen.
The winner in 1982? Alberto Salazar, born in Havana.

posted by etagloh at 01:47 PM on November 03

I admit thinking pretty much the same thing as Mr. Rovell when I first saw how recently Keflezighi had gained citizenship. I love that he's proud to represent the country that has given him so much. But should I feel proud because he's a US citizen (as am I)? OK, I'm glad that he thinks enough of this country to make his life here rather than Eritrea, but I don't take pride as an American in his athletic achievement. Do the Polish and Croatian (and some others) countries have great pride in the naturalized Brazilians playing on their soccer teams? They're probably glad it helps the quality of their team, but they know that talent wasn't developed in their country.

posted by sbacharach at 02:12 PM on November 03

Mr. Rovell should remember that most in that beautiful country of yours started out the same way that Keflezighi did. A little historical perspective gives one the notion that all citizens are indeed citizens, no matter how long they've lived there.

posted by dfleming at 02:17 PM on November 03


Would you feel more proud if you learned that he has been here since he was 12, and had never run prior to coming to the US? He's a home-grown runner in my book.

posted by mikemacman at 02:18 PM on November 03

OK, I'm glad that he thinks enough of this country to make his life here rather than Eritrea, but I don't take pride as an American in his athletic achievement.

He has been in the United States since he was 12 years old. All of his training as a long-distance runner took place in the U.S. If you take less pride in his achievements because he spent the first years of his life in another country, you're saying that millions of naturalized Americans are less American than people who are born here. In a country that prides itself on being a melting pot and taking in immigrants "yearning to breath free," that concept is unAmerican.

posted by rcade at 02:21 PM on November 03

The whole melting pot concept is one of the main ideas touted about the USA in school. How could you miss that lesson?

posted by bperk at 02:26 PM on November 03

I have alweays felt that the only "real" Americans are the natives. The rest of us are immigrants. I kind of thought that was how it worked. We are all just as "American" as the next guy. But the big green lady in the harbor says something about bringing her all your huddled masses and they can take the test and sign up and pay taxes and everything.

posted by THX-1138 at 02:39 PM on November 03

Fine he was here since he was 12. I jumped (falsely - because I did not read carefully enough) to the conclusion that he had come here more recently. His talent was developed in the US. Mea Culpa. As far as taking pride in being American, I don't tend to think in those terms much at all. I pretty much consider all of us to be citizens of the world. I'm the first person decrying medal counts at the Olympics.

posted by sbacharach at 02:39 PM on November 03

There's clearly a few shades of grey here. There are competitors who take the money and passports offered by countries that want a fast track to gold medals. There are ones who get slightly advantageous treatment in order to compete under a nation's flag, such as Tanith Belbin, the beneficiary of a bill that removed (frankly stupid) bureaucratic impediments to her naturalization in advance of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Then you have Bernard Lagat, who, like many Kenyan long-distance runners, went to college in the US, but unlike them, chose to take US citizenship when eligible. And then you have those like Keflezighi and Freddie Adu who emigrated to the US as children.

International eligibility regulations for sport have always been somewhat askew from citizenship laws, as seen in Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland side, or in the flag-swapping of rugby players and cricketers. Athletics has generally been stricter in that regard, at least since the days of Zola Budd's fast-track passport: Lagat's 2004 Olympic medal for Kenya is still under question, and after revealing his new citizenship, he served out a mandatory one-year ban before competing for the US.

None of that means that an American-by-choice, who took the test and swore the oath is any less American than what you might call 'Americans-by-accident' whose citizenship is based upon geography or ancestry.

posted by etagloh at 02:58 PM on November 03

In my uninformed opinion, the fact that he migrated to America as a kid and was able to succeed, at least in part, due to the advantages that he received as an American citizen rather than an Eritrean citizen, is in and of itself a reason we should be proud of this guy. Isn't that part of the American dream? That you can come to America and have a better life for yourself?

While I'm not necessarily more or less proud of Mr. Keflezighi than I would be of any other marathon winner from any country, I am proud of America for giving him an opportunity that he might not have had otherwise.

And, hey, whether you joined my team at birth or you joined it in an immigration office ten minutes ago, you're on my team now and that makes you my teammate no matter what. There's no "more or less a member of my team." This is a binary function.

posted by Joey Michaels at 03:07 PM on November 03

Deport the sucker!

posted by DrJohnEvans at 03:09 PM on November 03

Unless Darren Rovell is a Native American, he is technically an immigrant as well, and I am definitely not proud of his accomplishments.

posted by irunfromclones at 03:12 PM on November 03

If you go back far enough, everyone immigrated here.

posted by apoch at 04:20 PM on November 03

He is an American citizen thanks to taking a test and living in our country.

Hey, some don't even have to take a test to succeed in American sports or politics.

(trolling . . . trolling . . . trolling)

posted by graymatters at 04:24 PM on November 03

I cannot believe that any serious writer who is being paid for his or her efforts could have written what Mr. Rovell has. What a piece of crap! This American of un-American parentage (on both sides) is proud of Keflezighi's accomplishment. I would bet that Mr. Rovell couldn't even find Eritrea on a map.

posted by Howard_T at 05:30 PM on November 03

Here's his apology.

posted by smithnyiu at 05:51 PM on November 03

This has been the Canadian MO for as long as I can remember cheering on Jamaicans sprinting with the Canadian flag on their chest.

Nationalism. Funny how it collides with the modern global reality from time to time.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:31 PM on November 03

As far as taking pride in being American, I don't tend to think in those terms much at all.

You do, enough to specifically single an immigrant's achievement as something that doesn't stir your American pride. Have you done the same thing for, say, an American-born athlete? I doubt it.

posted by dfleming at 06:51 PM on November 03

No, dfleming, you got it wrong. My point is that I don't feel "pride" at anything American in particular. I'd like the USMNT football team to do well in South Africa because I follow their matches. I feel the same way about the French side. But I don't personally know anyone on either team. Why would their accomplishments have anything to do directly with me? I like Arsenal FC, but I've never seen them play in person or been the Emirates.

Sports allegiance doesn't necessarily have to do with anything rational like where you were born. End of tangent.

posted by sbacharach at 08:14 PM on November 03

Do we give much credence to Rovell given CNBC is a business channel?

posted by jjzucal at 08:34 PM on November 03

LOL, given that we have a Kenyan Nationalist as our President, what's a marathon runner from Eritrea matter?

Sorry, couldn't resist...I'll see myself out to the woodshed.

posted by dviking at 09:14 PM on November 03

I watched the whole race live on - I'm kind of a running dork. It was pretty amazing how there was a pack of 10-12 one minute and then just 4-5 the next. A few surges later it was just Meb and Cheruiyot. I didn't understand why Meb was sobbing after the race until I read a bit more about what had happened...

Meb's training partner Ryan Shay died in Central Park in the Olympic Trials in 2007, right near the finish line to Sunday's race. Meb had a hip stress fracture after that race that had him crawling around, unable to walk. He fought back from career-threatening injuries to just get to the starting line. He'd never won a marathon ever before.

Which is just a long way of saying "thank God these ignorant pricks said something." Now we can learn more about Meb and appreciate him even more.

posted by dusted at 11:29 PM on November 03

The most worrying thing about that racist dude? Doesn't even realise he's a racist.

posted by JJ at 06:00 AM on November 04

I have to agree with THX: the only "real" native people are American Indians. I come from German Immigrants; my wife came from Swedish Immigrants; you came from (insert ethinicity or nation of origin here) and we all get to be "real" Americans.

Add this to the fact that the guy lived here most of his life and all of his running life and the case is closed.

Rovell is an a*hole who thinks anyone with a weird name (by his standards) isn't as American as himself.

posted by Tigginator at 09:09 AM on November 04

He's not racist or xenophobic, he's just watching the wrong sport

posted by tahoemoj at 09:51 AM on November 04

I have to agree with THX: the only "real" native people are American Indians

The Washington American Indians football team?

posted by BornIcon at 01:22 PM on November 04

What a half-assed apology! But I'm pretty sure his bosses are loving all the nattering nabobs of the internet going on about CNBC's newest asshat. Any publicity yadda yadda.

posted by billsaysthis at 12:44 PM on November 05

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.