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In the world of identity politics, accomplishment – the actual achieving of goals by hard work perseverance and sacrifice – means nothing. What you say you are, how you identify yourself means everything.

Nowhere is that more apparent today than in a request that up to several years ago would have been impossible to imagine, but is now considered “correct.”

American Michael Phelps, the most highly decorated Olympic champion in history, was asked to relinquish the honor of carrying the Stars and Stripes in the Opening Ceremonies at the Rio Olympics – to someone else.

That someone else would be an Africa-born Muslim woman who chooses to wear the traditional hijab during competition as she enters her first Olympic games.

Oh yes, she openly supports Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton for the presidency and has been vocal in her criticism of Republican Donald Trump.

In other words, someone based on where she was born, her color, her religion and her political persuasion.

Phelps goes into the Rio swimming competition having won 22 medals in all – 18 of them gold, but accomplishment pales in comparison to optics.

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008 alone he won eight medals – the most won in a Olympiad.

He is the current record holder in three main events, has been named World Swimmer of the Year seven times and American Swimmer of the Year nine times.

He started and runs a foundation to promote swimming and encourage a healthy lifestyle, something he is uniquely qualified to do after recovering from a few missteps in young adulthood, including being photographed smoking marijuana at a party.

When chosen, Phelps had responded, “I’m honored to be chosen, proud to represent the U.S., and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for.”

But CNN says Ibtihaj Muhammad, a woman most well-known for wearing her Muslim head covering during fencing matches, would have made a better choice.

CNN – which some refer to only half-jokingly as “Clinton News Network” wrote, “Muhammad carrying the flag would be a better choice – 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 unlikable presidential elections in recent memory.”

He went on to dismiss Phelps’s lifetime of achievement, writing, “No offense, but right now America has enough tall, successful, rich white guys hogging the spotlight trying to make America great … again,” in a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan.

“Muhammad carrying the flag would be much bigger than your one moment,” Bell writes. “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.”

“Again, thank you again for stepping aside for Ibtihaj Muhammad. During these Olympics, you can win more medals to add to your all-time winning number of medals. But no medal will compare to making room for this.”

So much for the Olympics being a celebration of sport as a way of transcending politics.

Phelps carried the flag.


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