Congrats to Cullen Jones (above, second from left) and his U.S. teammates who captured the men’s 4x100m Freestyle relay at the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne, Australia last weekend. (Yeah, I missed it, too.) Cullen, from New Brusnwick, NJ. teamed with (l-r) Neil Walker, Olympian Michael Phelps and Jason Lezak to just miss setting another world record in the event.
Cullen, 23, is African American, and while he isn’t the first black swimmer to win a world championship he may be the first to embrace his blackness. At the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Anthony Ervin, who’s a mixture of African- and Native-American and Jewish heritages, tied for the gold medal in the Men’s 50m Freestyle at the 2000 Summer Olympics. He also won a silver medal on the Men’s 4×100 m freestyle relay team. But Ervin, who is light-skinned was a reluctant pioneer and was famously quoted as saying, “I don’t look black.” (On the positive side, Ervin reportedly sold his gold medal on EBay for $17,700 and donated the funds to tsunami relief.)
Not such hiding for Cullen, whose pioneering role is being supported by his teammates. “Obviously, he’s a role model to a lot of athletes,” said Lezak, who is also a mentor to Jones. “It’s a tough job. He’s got a whole community on his shoulders. I’m sure it’s got to be a little stressful for him. I hope he realizes that he can’t change the world, but he can make it better.”
Anthony (I-don’t-look-black) Ervin