CNBC reporter: Marathon winner "can't count as American"

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

CNBC's Darren Rovell has some funny ideas about what it means to be an American.

Over the weekend, Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon since 1982. But CNBC's Darren Rovell isn't impressed. Darren Rovell doesn't think Keflezighi is really an American.

On his Twitter account yesterday, Rovell wrote "NYC Marathon winner Keflezghi may be a citizen, but can't count as American."

Rovell explained his bizarre views in an article on CNBC's web site:

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.

"Technically American"? No: Keflezighi is American. Not on some technicality or by virtue of a loophole. He is, simply, an American -- and he isn't any less American simply because he did not share Darren Rovell's great good fortune to have been born in the U.S.


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.

Well, actually, he isn't anything like that at all. Keflezighi is an American. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1987, when he was 12 years old, and became a citizen in 1998. He has lived in America for 22 years and been a citizen for 11.

You know many "ringers" who start at age 12? You know many people who consider 22 years of residence the equivalent of working "a couple hours at your office"? I didn't think so.


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.

Now there's a guy who loves his country.

Here's an excerpt from a 2005 Sports Illustrated profile of Keflezighi:

Meb's story begins in Eritrea a quarter century ago. Russom Keflezighi was the father of five young children (Meb was number 4), husband to a pregnant wife, Awetash, and a hunted member of the Eritrean Liberation Front, a civilian organization seeking independence for Eritrea from Ethiopia. "By 1981 the enemy was very close," he says. He would often sleep in the woods outside his village to avoid detection.

His wife urged him to leave the country rather than be jailed or killed. In July 1981 Russom walked out of his village in tears and headed for the border with Sudan, nearly 100 miles and seven days away. Two years later he moved to Milan, Italy, with the aid of an Eritrean woman who had borne him a daughter, Ruth, before he married Awetash.

Russom worked as many as four jobs at once and sent money back to Eritrea. At home the Keflezighi boys dodged violence every day. "We saw body parts on the highway," says Meb. "But it was the only life we knew." In 1986 Russom brought his family to Milan and then--14 months later, sponsored by Ruth, who was 19 years old and living in the U.S.--to San Diego.

In California, Russom worked tirelessly. He did not let his children take jobs. "I told them, 'You will have a better life if you study,'" he says. The family grew to 11 kids. Today the six oldest have college degrees, and the seventh is a freshman at Stanford.

(H/t: Americablog)

UPDATE: Rovell apologizes. Sort of:

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.


This is where, I must admit, my critics made their best point. 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.

In other words, Rovell wrote a column smearing Keflezighi without bothering to do 20 seconds of research to find out if his central premise was correct. That's some good journalism!

Rovell also writes:

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

Oh, really? What about when Rovell wrote that Keflezighi "can't count as American"? How about when he wrote that Keflezighi is only "technically" American? Or when he analogized Keflezghi's American-ness to a "ringer" who works "a couple hours" in an office?

UPDATE 2: Keflezighi's fellow UCLA alums over at Bruins Nation are not amused:

The first point I'd like to make is that Meb did more than just "live" in the country. For the most part, he grew up here. Last time I checked, the University of California, Los Angeles contains three words that identify itself with the United States, so he was educated here. And being a citizen thanks to "taking a test" is no small feat, considering that there are reports circulating that a mere 3.5% of American High School students would be able to pass that same test. I'd like to know if Rovell could pass. I know I have my doubts.


What I'm really wondering what ... Revell would say to the parents and wives and children of dead American soldiers who died in battle defending this country after becoming naturalized citizens. I wonder if they would tell them "Thanks, but it's not as if they were real Americans who were actually born here."

I not only rejoice in Meb's win because we are both Americans. I rejoice that I live in a country that allows great men like Meb to become citizens and then proceeds to treat him no differently than those whose families came over on the Mayflower.

Darren Rovell
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