|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
As soon as Mebrahtom Keflezighi, better known as Meb, won the New York City Marathon on Sunday, an uncommon sports dispute erupted online, fraught with racial and nationalistic components: Should Keflezighi’s triumph count as an American victory?
He was widely celebrated as the first American to win the New York race since 1982. Having immigrated to the United States at age 12, he is an American citizen and a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels.
But, some said, because he was born in Eritrea, he is not really an American runner.
The debate reveals what some academics say are common assumptions and stereotypes about race and sports and athletic achievement in the United States. Its dimensions, they add, go beyond the particulars of Keflezighi and bear on undercurrents of nationalism and racism that are not often voiced.
“Race is still extremely important when you think about athletics,” said David Wiggins, a professor at George Mason University who studies African-Americans and sports. “There is this notion about innate physiological gifts that certain races presumably possess. Quite frankly, I think it feeds into deep-seated stereotypes. The more blatant forms of racial discrimination and illegal forms have been eliminated, but more subtle forms of discrimination still exist.”
There are few cases parallel to Keflezighi’s in American sports. Some are noteworthy because of how little discussion, by comparison, they generated over the athlete’s nationality. For example, the Hall of Fame basketball player Patrick Ewing (Jamaica) and the gold medal gymnast Nastia Liukin (Russia) were born abroad, but when they represented the United States in competition, they seemingly did not encounter the same skepticism that Keflezighi has.