Date: Thursday, 11 June 2020
By his own admission, Meb—who is now 45 years old and a “running ambassador” for several companies as well as the co-owner of the Carlsbad 5000 road race—is also not one to rock the boat. At the press conference after the U.S. 2016 Olympic Trials, a reporter asked about an apparent mid-race scuffle between Meb, who finished second, and the winner, Galen Rupp. Meb said that there was a moment where Rupp should have given him more room—this was a road and not a track race, after all. For Meb, this was about as confrontational as it got.
However, over the past week and a half, as protests have erupted across the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Meb has used his social media platforms to join the chorus of dissent. He spoke with Outside to share his thoughts on recent events, running, and being black in America
OUTSIDE: First things first, where have you spent the last couple of months and how have you and your family been coping?
KEFLEZIGHI: Family’s good. I’m in Tampa, Florida. I moved here about a year ago with my wife and daughters. We’re just kind of taking it day to day. When quarantine started here, it was kind of crazy, because stores were running out of things. You’d go to the store and you could only get two milks, even if you have three kids. I had some experience with that when I was in Eritrea, so it’s not new new for me, but it’s new for me in the United States where you always had an abundance of things. Here in Tampa, we got hurricane season coming up. There’s always something, I guess.
For a lot of runners, this sport provides a psychological coping mechanism during difficult times which, it’s safe to say, our country is currently going through on several levels. Have you been running during this time and, if so, do you feel like it’s helped you mentally?
Absolutely. For me, running was something that I was fortunate enough to make a living out of. To get paid to be fit and strong—it’s a dream come true. At the same time, I love running. I’m not competing anymore, but I love to go out for a run every day, if I can. I like to do it in the morning, because then I’ll have a happier day—a more productive day. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, but it’s also a form of stress relief. Before it was my livelihood, but it’s a therapy for me. Since the pandemic, I’ve seen more people running and walking in the neighborhood. I think it is a coping mechanism. There are no organized races, but people need to go outside.
Over the past week we have seen two major crises in this country converge. While the pandemic might pose a more immediate threat to American life, some have argued that systemic racism is a more serious, long-term affliction for this country and that the health risks of mass protests are worth getting the message across. What do you think about the protests?
First and foremost—my thoughts go out to George Floyd’s family. Because it’s not just one life, but the trickle effect that goes out from something like that, which is humongous. And what happened in Georgia, to Ahmaud Arbery—it’s just ridiculous. Enough is enough. Wrong is wrong. People have just not been heard and that’s what the protest is. Why is it happening now? I think the timing is interesting—fewer people are going to work which, in a sense, gives them more freedom to protest but also, you know, thank God for smartphones. This has been happening for a long, long time. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. To see those videos—not that we wanted to see them, or that we should have to see them to believe it—but it’s proof that it has happened and it’s woken up many people. If you want to ask me personal things that I’ve encountered in the past, I’d be more than happy to share them with you, but this is something that has happened to all African Americans, young and old, you know? By the same token, there are some good cops who do care and serve the community and the people, but there are also some that are taking the lives of innocent people for no reason.
Have you taken part in any of the protests?
Two days ago we joined the protest over on Kennedy Boulevard, my wife, myself, and my daughters. The protest is necessary. If we can make a change, it’s going to be gradual, but, yeah, it’s a marathon. It doesn’t happen overnight. Wish it did. Colin Kaepernick was ahead of the game.
You generally have not been too outspoken in response to smaller controversies in our sport. If I remember correctly, you were pretty low-key about, for instance, criticizing the Oregon Project in the wake of the doping allegations. Just judging by your social media profile and your public response to the national outcry in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, this time seems different. Is that a fair assessment?
You could say that. You asked me to speak about these things and I’m more than happy to give you my time and opinion. But I’m not the person to say, “Hey, listen to me!” So, yeah, I’m not that controversial. But, with this matter, I think that it’s important to say something. At the protests, people were saying that silence is not good. And silence is what has happened for a long time.