Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports And Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It

From Scientific American: Few issues are as provocative and as poorly understood as biological differences among the races. So loaded are statements suggesting racial superiority or inferiority that, for the most part, an anxious hush surrounds the topic. To his credit, journalist Jon Entine has tackled this problem with a no-holds-barred assault.

Not shy about poking at the issue’s softest spots, he goes after the history of sports and race science, the segregation and integration of sports, racial breeding and eugenics, sports and IQ, and the emergence of the black female athlete. Entine has put together a well-researched, relatively thorough and lucidly written case, arguing that in many sports-particularly basketball, football, and track and field-athletes of African descent show a competitive advantage.

He opens Taboo with the firm conclusion that “to the degree that it is a purely scientific debate, the evidence of black superiority in athletics is persuasive and decisively confirmed on the playing field. Elite athletes who trace most or all of their ancestry to Africa are by and large better than the competition.” While acknowledging that success in sports is a “bio-social phenomenon,” he asserts that “there is extensive and persuasive research that elite black athletes have a phenotypic advantage-a distinctive skeletal system and musculature, metabolic structures, and other characteristics forged over tens of thousands of years of evolution.

While people of African descent have spent most of their evolutionary history near to where they originated, the rest of the world’s populations have had to modify their African adaptations after migrating to far different regions and climates.” Entine adds that “preliminary research suggests that different phenotypes are at least partially encoded in the genes-conferring genotypic differences, which may result in an advantage in some sports.” Such differences are, of course, mediated by experience, from prenatal health to education. In other words, environment and culture can amplify or diminish tiny genetic variations. Considering the variance within each geographic, racial and ethnic population, such differences “may appear minuscule, but at the elite level, they are the stuff of champions.”

To support this biocultural theory, Entine supplies a wealth of anecdotal information. For example, he notes that although Asians constitute 57 percent of the world’s population, they make up a small fraction of professional runners, soccer players or basketball players. In contrast, whereas persons of sub-Saharan African ancestry comprise 12 percent of the world’s six billion people, they disproportionately represent the top athletes in those sports requiring running, jumping and endurance. During the 1960s, the National Basketball Association’s racial breakdown stood at roughly 80 percent white and 20 percent black; today that proportion has nearly reversed. In fact, a black male has a one-in-4,000 chance of playing in the NBA, compared with a white male’s one-in-90,000 chance. Meanwhile, among professional women’s basketball players, 70 percent are African-American. In the National Football League, 65 percent of players are black. In college sports, 60 percent of male basketball players and nearly half of all football players are African-American. In track and field, nearly every men’s world record belongs to an athlete of African descent-including the top 15 world running records (ranging from 100 meters to the marathon). Such talent, Entine maintains, originates disproportionately in three African regions: the West African coast, North Africa and East Africa.

LUKE SAYS: The late psychologist, J. Philippe Rushton, is the most famous professor in Canada over the past few decades. He argues that the physiological differences between blacks, whites and asians originate from the weight of brains. Asians have the heaviest brains (followed by whites and blacks), hence they have the widest hips.

Rushton debated on the Phil Donahue show.

Below is the 1989 debate on race and genetics between Phil Rushton and Canadian zoologist David Suzuki.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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