CNBC's sports business expert Darren Rovell tripped when he wrote about Meb Keflezighi winning the New York Marathon, the first American to win the race since 1982, although Deadspin's Tommy Craggs points out that the winner that year, Alberto Salazar, was not birthed here either.
Under the headline, "Marathon's Headline Win Is Empty," Rovell defines American-born: "If you move here at age 12, you aren't American-born." Ok, Keflezighi was not born in the USA, but does that matter? Other than in a Bruce Springsteen song and to those who want to be U.S. President. (Reminds of the old Shaq song, "Biological don't matter.") Keflezighi was born in Eritrea, but he was absolutely Made in the USA.
Rovell wrote, "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." Or Sam Malone hiring Kevin McHale as a bartender so that he can play on the Cheers team and beat the rival bar. That's a ringer.
Meb has lived in the United States for 22 years. He grew up in the States and ran cross country and graduated from UCLA. I know Meb's brother Hawi, who also attended UCLA and served as a basketball manager under Coach Lavin. Hawi also went to UCLA law school.
Richard Lapchick, one of the most thoughtful people on this subject, told The New York Times that the reaction to Keflezighi victory “tells us there are people that still have racial red flags go up when certain things happen...Many people think that with an African-American president, we are in a postracial society. Clearly, we are not.”
The Keflezighis are great people. They are an amazing testament to everything that is great about our country. Meb's story was highlighted on NBC Nightly News. Too bad Darren didn't watch his own network before writing a column based on the entirely false assumption that Meb was a "ringer."
NBC Nightly News documented the Keflezighi family journey from war-torn Eritrea. Their story is an absolute American Dream...only it's a reality: "The father hiked 600 miles to escape the Sudan, then arranged to get his family to American, settling in San Diego and eventually driving a cab to launch a house full of kids toward college and professional careers."
Darren has since backtracked, writing under the headline, "What I Got Wrong About Keflezighi." My answer: The entire article. His answer: "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."
"It turns out" is pretty lame, since Meb's family history was not some closely-guarded secret that a google search couldn't solve. Sloppy reporting is not good, especially from someone like Darren whose credentials are impeccable. (His documentary "Swoosh! Inside Nike" is a testament to his top-notch reporting abilities.) Committing a journalistic mistake is a world away from espousing a Palinesque view of the "Real America," which he is being accused of all over the Internets.
In the final analysis, I always believe it's good to have these conversations. Let's hope everyone learned a valuable lesson--and we can move forward.