This is an old theme in the US, as old as the US itself, where the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants declare themselves "real Americans" and the rest less-thans. But just because it's not new doesn't mean we should accept it.
On Sunday, U.S. media outlets reported that for the first time in 27 years, an American had won the New York City Marathon. Meb Keflezighi was born in Eritrea, "growing up in a hut with no electricity." He and his family moved to Italy when he was 10 years old, and came to the United States two years later. Keflezighi "began running in junior high in San Diego, then went on to star at UCLA." He said he it was with "big honor and pride" that he wore the USA jersey while running in the marathon.
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However, CNBC Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell doesn't think Keflezighi deserves all this praise because when his mother gave birth to him, she wasn't in the U.S. Rovell wrote a column yesterday saying that Keflezighi's victory wasn't "as good as it sounds" because Keflezighi is an immigrant, and this fact "takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies":
Given our disappointing results, embracing Keflezighi is understandable. But 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.
Around noon today, Rovell posted a "convoluted sort-of apology" clarifying yesterday’s piece, writing, "Let me be clear: Meb Keflezighi is an American and any suggestion otherwise is wrong." He now granted Keflezighi’s win legitimacy only because the runner was "brought up through the American system":
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. Frankly I didn’t account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi’s running experience came as a US citizen. I never said he didn’t deserve to be called American. [...]
It turns out, Keflezighi moved to the United States in time to develop at every level in America. So Meb is in fact an American trained athlete and an American citizen and he should be celebrated as the American winner of the NYC Marathon. That makes a difference and makes him different from the "ringer" I accused him of being. Meb didn’t deserve that comparison and I apologize for that.
Note Rovell's preface "as it turns out". Is she saying she didn't know where Keflezighi trained before declaring him "not quite us"? That's highly unlikely. The New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the Marathon, has a very professional media department. It's safe to assume Rovell received the same facts as the rest of the sports media.
The ThinkProgress story quoted above mentions researchers quoted in the New York Times noting "undercurrents of nationalism and racism that are not often voiced" in sports. That's true, but it's not enough to chalk this up to sports culture. The cultures of sport reflect and often magnify the values of the larger society. Rovell's bigotry doesn't come out of nowhere. It's American to the core.
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