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Black Men Can Jump By: Karina Rollins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 15, 2000


Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It
by John Entine
PublicAffairs
$25.00, 387 pp.
BUY IT

IN FORTY YEARS, the political left has gone from fighting racism to creating it. It views every social ill, every cultural trend, every minute statistic through the prism of race and sex, demanding "proportional representation." Thus, if 12 percent of Americans are black, then 12 percent of lawyers, accountants, and horse breeders must be black. If 51 percent of Americans are women, then 51 percent of elected officials and construction workers must be female. Anything less is seen as proof of the evil workings of race or gender discrimination. Such group-think disregards individuality; it ignores that different people simply have different skills and talents.

The bean-counters, however, put down their abacuses when the topic is pro sports. Sure, they complain that too few blacks are quarterbacks or head coaches, and assume that racism must be to blame. But they never ask why so many blacks are wide receivers, point guards, sprinters. Surely it is not discrimination that keeps whites from playing these positions. So what explains the disproportional representation? The politically incorrect question: Why? The politically dangerous answer: Race.

John Entine is unafraid to tackle politically incorrect questions, or to provide politically dangerous answers. In Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About it, Entine presents facts, whether you like them or not. So, in case you didn't know: White men might be able to jump, but black men jump higher, run faster, and react quicker. In the kingdom of sports, blacks rule. Everyone knows it, but few are willing to talk about it. That's because if there is genetic evidence for West African dominance in sprinting and jumping, there might also be genetic evidence for the musical talent of Jews, or the mathematical talent of Asians. The bean counters would no longer be able to pin every discrepancy in racial outcomes on discrimination.

Entine presents not his beliefs, but his research. From sports statistics to history to anthropology, from biology to science to racial theories past and present, Entine leaves nothing out. And he has been able to find nothing that casts real doubt on black superiority in sports—or on the fact that environmental influence alone (today's only politically acceptable theory) doesn't explain this dominance.

That doesn't mean that any black will be the best at any sport. For example, it is specifically Kenyans who dominate distance running, and West Africans are the fastest sprinters and highest jumpers. (Most black Americans are of West African ancestry.) The numbers are irrefutable: "Whereas only one in every eight of the people in the world are black, more than 70 percent of the top times are held by runners of African origin"; Kenya has earned 38 Olympic medals since 1964. "Based on population percentages alone, the likelihood that this Texas-sized country could turn in such a remarkable medal performance is one in 1.6 billion."

Whether you find this kind of information fascinating or tedious, you might wonder why on earth anyone should care that Kenyans win marathons. And you might conclude that the only people who do care about race-based performance are racists. Given the horror perpetrated by German eugenicists during the Holocaust, and this country's own history of perverting racial differences to justify slavery and Jim Crow, it's easy to see how the current orthodoxy of "Don't stereotype anyone" appeals to people of good will.

So why is it OK, even important, to focus on racial differences? Entine uses the subject of sports as a springboard to "the first and most important step in bridging" human differences (which must be acknowledged in order to do so, he argues). Still, those who believe that harping on racial differences creates racism, can, and do, contend that as varied as people are, this diversity is a result of culture and outside influences alone, that genes don't matter.

Enter a very practical consideration: medicine and health. Science has long discovered genetic diseases. Mutated genes causing breast cancer are common among Ashkenazi Jews, whose ancestry is Central European. American Indians are much more likely than other groups to have an enzyme that makes processing alcohol more difficult. Blacks are "ten times more likely than whites to be born with sickle-cell disease, which has been traced to the race-related sickle-cell gene, which protects native carriers in equatorial Africa from getting Malaria." And on and on. It seems that ignoring the origins of these disease patterns, thus making cures and treatments more difficult to find, is reckless and cruel.

With small exceptions—important but exhausting explanations of dominant genes, twitching fiber, and blood oxygen levels make you feel like you're trapped in Biology 101—Entine's descriptions are engaging, whether you're a sports fan or not. He introduces readers to black athletes who are intriguing, both as sports stars and as people—boxers Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, runners Kip Keino, Jesse Owens, and Wilma Rudolph, to name just a few. Their individual stories matter, for, as Entine points out, success depends as much on spirit as on genes. He is careful to make clear that simply because blacks generally have certain physical advantages doesn't mean that success comes to them easily. They work just as hard as their white counterparts. But their genes allow the same hard work to take their bodies just a bit further—this tiny edge making all the difference in winning or losing a race.

Does environment matter too? Of course it does. No one disputes the role outside influences play on human development. But many dispute any role of genetics. Genetic and behavioral research have shown they both matter. "Culture exaggerates biology," Entine explains. Will there be people who try to abuse racial differences? Yes. Just as there will always be liars, traitors, and thieves. "The challenge," Entine believes, "is whether we can conduct the debate [on race] so that human diversity might be cause for celebration of our individuality rather than fanning distrust."

A bigger challenge still might just be to conduct the debate at all. Everyone knows the facts John Entine documents to be true, but very few are willing to utter them. John Entine has broken a powerful taboo, and with it shaken the foundation of the Left's racialist worldview.


Karina Rollins is a writer in Washington, D.C.


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