CNBC’s Darren Rovell tries to make the case that Meb Keflezighi isn’t American enough and so his win at the New York Marathon on Sunday doesn’t really count:
It’s a stunning headline: American Wins Men’s NYC Marathon For First Time Since ’82.
Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it sounds.
Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, 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.
I watched the race on Sunday and was pulling for two runners–Ryan Hall, the tall blond (white) kid who has been annointed as America’s next great marathon runner and Meb, the short black guy who was born in Africa. Both were capable of putting up the times required to win and both ran with the lead pack for most of the race. Once you got past the differences in their physical appearance, the biggest thing that stood out to me was their choice of racing singlets. Ryan wore a navy blue singlet, Meb wore a white singlet emblazoned with USA across the front.
Meb’s family fled Eritrea to escape the war with Ethiopia. His father moved to Italy where he worked as a laborer until he could reunite his family. When Meb was 12, his father moved them to the States. He grew up in my home town of San Diego, went to UCLA where he won four national titles, competed for the United States in two Olympics and won a silver medal in Athens–the birthplace of the marathon. By any account, his family’s success since coming to the States has been inspiring: “Despite the language barriers and life as an expatriate, Meb and his ten brothers and sisters have created their own legacy by making education their number one priority. Among the children who are out of high school, they hold six undergraduate degrees, an MBA, an MD, one is working on a JD and another is on her way to Stanford University.” Oh, and one has won the New York Marathon.
Yet somehow, for some people, he’s not American enough.
How American is American enough? What if he moved here when he was 10? No? OK, how about when he was 6? Still not good enough? 2? What about a week after he was born?
Unfortunately, Darren Rovell isn’t the only one dinging Meb for his “American-ness.” It’s been a common refrain in the distance running world that Meb’s good, but since he’s not American born, it doesn’t count. He got the same thing after his Olympics success. And it’s sad.
Here we have a champion who grew up in America, went to school in America, trained in America, learned to run in America, and won in America and yet there are American’s who say he’s not American enough for them to count it as a victory. One of the great things about America is that if you choose to do so, you can BECOME American. All of our families did it. My grandmother moved here from Poland when she was eight. She worked in a factory while my grandfather fought in World War II. She raised my dad and my aunt in San Diego. She paid her taxes. Would Rovell claim that it doesn’t count because she wasn’t born here? It’s a ridiculous argument.
I’m a bit ashamed of Darren Rovell this morning and if you can’t tell, I’m kind of angry about it too. I’ve raced a half marathon and four marathons and have a PR of 4:03. That’s got me crossing the finish line nearly two hours after Meb crossed in NY on Sunday. What he accomplished is nothing short of amazing. He beat the Kenyans and the Moroccans at a sport where they are considered the best. For that day, he was the best runner in the world. For the first time since 1982, an American won.
And he crossed the finish line wearing a singlet that said it all…USA.
Congratulations, Meb. We’re proud that you’re an American.