I admit that when I first read the story on CBSSports.com that Chris Kaman received German citizenship, so he now has dual citizenship – USA and German, my original reaction was to question why he would do such a thing. The article points out that he is not an immigrant, but rather his great-grandparents were German. I was a little bothered by the idea that an athlete would seek citizenship in another country to primarily compete in the Olympics.
I then did a little research. It appears that this phenomenon is more common than one would think – particularly if you primarily follow only the major US sports. The New York Times in its article entitled, Swapping passports in pursuit of Olympic medals, illustrated a number of former foreign Olympic athletes that became US citizens and continued to compete, this time for the USA.
A particularly controversial example, again depending on your perspective, was Kenya-born Olympic medal winner Bernard Lagat. Lagat, who was a distance running star in Kenya, received US citizenship in 2004, just months prior to medaling in the 2004 Athens games. Kenya, as the article points out, prohibits dual citizenship, but Legat did not disclose his changed citizenship due to the knowledge that he would not be able to compete in the 2004 Olympics. However, the Kenyan Olympic committee is not happy that he is currently competing as an American athlete – even though he has been a citizen for just over 4 years.
The point is this phenomenon is not new. It has been going on for a number of years, but mostly in sports that the majority of Americans do not care much about – except for a few weeks every 4 years. The difference in the Kaman story is that he is an (1) American who elected to gain citizenship and compete for another country; and most importantly (2) he plays a sport that is much more important to the majority of American citizens. If he was playing shuffle board, rhythmic gymnastics, table tennis, race walking (the list goes on and on), no one – except for the athletes they compete against and/or the relatively small groups of people who are passionate about those sports – would have even noticed. MAYBE during the actual coverage, assuming one of the previously mentioned sports even gets a few minutes of coverage, would there have been a passing mention, but that’s it.
So in the grand scheme of things, so what. While there doesn’t appear to be very accurate statistics on dual citizenship, the estimates range from 494,000 to 5.7 million US citizens hold dual citizenship. So, Chris Kaman is just one more. Now, what would be truly interesting is… since he is now also a German citizen… if the German government sent him a tax bill on his NBA salary.