News & Politics

CNN Host Called on U.S. Flag Bearer at Olympics to Step Aside for Muslim Fencer

CNN Host Called on U.S. Flag Bearer at Olympics to Step Aside for Muslim Fencer
Michael Phelps carries the flag of the United States during the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The host of the CNN show “United Shades of America” called on Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps to forgo the honor of carrying the American flag at the head of the American delegation and allow a Muslim female fencer to carry it instead.


Kamau Bell penned a column on the CNN website saying that Phelps should withdraw in the name of “diversity.”

“What I’m trying to say is that as far as America is concerned, you are a golden boy … literally. You getting the opportunity to carry the flag is like Michael Jordan getting a free pair of Nike sneakers.

You are both the living embodiment of the “honor” you are getting.

To put it another way, in the Make-Your-Own-Ice-Cream-Sundae-Bar of life, your sundae is lousy with hot fudge, butterscotch, strawberry sauce, whipped cream, nuts, sprinkles, extra scoops of ice cream, and so many Maraschino cherries that 5-year-old kids with mouthfuls of Maraschino cherries yell as you pass by, “THAT’S TOO MANY CHERRIES!”

And that’s why I would be proud of you for giving up your position to Ibtihaj Muhammad. Muhammad carrying the flag would be much bigger than your one moment.

It would be a symbol for our country in this moment when we are mostly known for one of the most contentious, controversial, scandal-ridden, hateful, xenophobic, jingoistic, and just generally unlikeable presidential elections in recent memory. This is at a time when we could use some more symbols of unity and togetherness.

Muhammad carrying the flag would be nearly a one-stop inclusion shop. Muhammad is an African-American, hijab-wearing Muslim woman who is also a world class fencer. Those are all groups that could always use some more love, acceptance, and respect from this country. (And yes, I’m including fencers in this group.)

If (when) Muhammad carries the flag, that moment (and Muhammad herself) would grow into legend. We’re talking bigger than just the Olympics.

It will be cemented in history the same way Australian runner Peter Norman is cemented in Olympic history as the white guy standing stock still next to Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. As Smith and Carlos stood with their fists in the air, Norman (very actively) didn’t get in the way. And he even encouraged the moment by suggesting that Tommie Smith wear John Carlos’ left glove when Carlos discovered that he had forgotten his gloves at the Olympic village. Thank you, Michael, for being the Peter Norman of this year’s Olympics.


Trying to unravel the skein of idiocy that runs through the entire article is a task for which I’m not suited.

But how much fun would that be?

Bell is someone who is so married to the notion of diversity as an end in and of itself that he is oblivious to how that skews his worldview. The point that Phelps has already won enough accolades and should step aside so someone else gets some glory ignores the fact that Phelps was elected by the rest of the American team to carry the flag. Only someone so besotted with ideological fervor would think that this singular honor should be passed up just to bend the knee to the idea of diversity.

It’s a mindset that believes in income redistribution because some people have “too much” money. Phelps has “too many” advantages so he should injure himself to make a point. What point? That honors and rewards should go to someone not based on their performance, but on the color of their skin, or their religion, or their sex. The subtext is that Phelps got to where he is because he is a white male.

Phelps has worked his entire life to become the most decorated Olympian in U.S. history. It wasn’t his race or his sex that got him where he is. It was good old-fashioned all-American hard work. His advantage — if there is any — is that he wanted it more than the next guy. That’s why this nonsense has no place in athletics — perhaps the last pure meritocracy on earth. And this galls Bell and his friends because no amount of whining, or shaming, or pouting, or foot stomping will change the fact that after the race is won, no one looks at the color of the winner’s skin, only that the winner came in first.


Phelps carried the flag proudly when the U.S. team marched into the Olympic stadium. I’m sure he never gave a thought to giving up an honor he so rightly and deservedly won.

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