At this point, we already know that Olympian Michael Phelps didn’t take W. Kamau Bell’s suggestion, and step aside to let hijab-wearing Ibtihaj Muhammad carry the U.S. flag in the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.
No, Phelps paraded his cherries. Bell explains, in an open letter to Michael Phelps asking him to do the noble thing:
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!”
Bell seemed to argue that Phelps could make up for (let’s face it) Donald Trump, by getting his cherries out of our face:
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.
And young fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is just what we need.
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.)
Naahh. Not buying it. If Michael Phelps isn’t an inclusion shop, neither is Ibtihaj Muhammad. Either inclusion is inclusion, meaning everyone is eligible to symbolize it, or it isn’t.
— michelekirkBPR (@michelekirkBPR) August 7, 2016
What if the shoe were on the other foot? If Ms. Muhammad were the 22-time medalist and Michael Phelps the runner-up in the team vote for flag-bearer, would Bell ask Muhammad to step aside? Or would that hijab still trump everything else, in Bell’s “inclusion” decision tree?
I think we know the answer to that.
Wishing the best to Ibtihaj Muhammad, Michael Phelps, and all our Olympic athletes. (And everyone else’s, for that matter. No more broken bones, please. Note: Muhammad was eliminated in the second round on Monday. But we salute her as a competitor. Michael Phelps won his 19TH gold medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay, bringing his lifetime Olympic total to 23.)