No cheers please, for the N.Y. Marathon winner

A sports columnist questions the American bona fides of Meb Keflezighi. Anger erupts, followed by abject groveling

Published November 3, 2009 10:11PM (EST)

Just how red, white and blue does an American's blood need to run before being considered truly American?

In CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell's first contemplation of this important question, considered in the context of Meb Keflezighi's New York Marathon win this past weekend, the answer seemed to be, either you are born in America, or you flat out don't deserve any patriotic credit. Channeling the nativist, anti-immigrant sentiments of a nation of jerks, Rovell delivered himself of some pearls of journalistic opinion.

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....

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.

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.

Rovell's column excited a storm of negative commentary, and was effectively demolished by Gina Kolata in yesterday's New York Times. Keflezighi may have been born in Eritrea, but "he immigrated to the United States at age 12, [and] he is...a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels."

So today Rovell attempted to grovel.

Let me be clear: Meb Keflezighi is an American and any suggestion otherwise is wrong...

That's an almost an apology. But then there's this:

I never said he didn't deserve to be called American.

Sorry, mister, but such a slur sums up exactly the implication of your first column. You should just consider yourself lucky you don't have to take a test to gain American citizenship, because judging by your own words, if asked what it means to be American, you would fail.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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