White men can't jump
Geoff Metcalf asks Jon Entine' why black athletes dominate sports'

By Geoff Metcalf

In his new book, author Jon Entine fearlessly takes on an age-old issue that affects not only sports but race relations and cultural stereotypes as well. In "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It," Entine comprehensively addresses the controversy while blowing-away conventional explanations. Filled with statistics and scientific data, his book presents answers that anger people on all sides of the issue. WorldNetDaily reporter Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Entine about his book and his favorite "taboo" subject.

Question: This isn't a new topic for you. You and Tom Brokaw did a TV piece about it 10 or 11 years ago, right?

Answer: Yes, it was right after the Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder fiasco when he was fired from CBS for saying blacks were bred since slavery to be better athletes and also right after Al Campanas made a crack on "Nightline" that blacks don't have the mental necessities to be a manager or a field manager.

Q: Guys get fired for talking about this stuff.

A: Yeah, that's why I'm wearing my flak jacket.

Q: You note that 13 percent of the U.S. population is black. But the NFL has 65 percent of its roster filled with black athletes. The NBA about 80 percent and the WNBA is about 70 percent black. So are blacks better athletes?

A: The surprising answer is "no," they are not better athletes. They are just "different" athletes. I'm not claiming black superiority. What I'm claiming is there are different body shapes, different body types and physiology as a result of evolution. And, in fact, it is not even a black / white thing. If you look at east Africans -- Kenyans, Tanzanians -- they dominate in distance running, but they're terrible at things like sprinting. They are not particularly good at soccer even though soccer is the national sport of Kenya. African-Americans of west African ancestry and west Africans in general are the premier sprinters and leapers in the world.

East Africans and west Africans evolved in different circumstances. The continent was split by the mountain range, the Great Rift Valley. The people in the west lived in the lowlands and ate a different diet than the people -- who evolved over tens of thousands of years, quite literally -- in the highlands. And that shapes different body types. We see it in whites and blacks and Asians as well.

Q: A lot of people took at look at this before it went to print and obvious criticisms are to be anticipated. However, some of the people have said some really kind things about this work.

A: It has gotten generally very positive reviews. I have the reviews on my website. The Christian Science Monitor just did a wonderfully positive review. African-American scholars and journalists have given it great reviews. I mean, I've taken my knocks, but I don't think anyone who has really read the book and is familiar with the science and the sociology has really taken it on because it is really a historical book about how this issue has been debated.

Q: You do a real good job with the statistical analysis of the evidence. Throw some of the numbers at us.

A: You mentioned some popular American sports but it extends around the world as well. In running, every single running record from the 100-meters to the marathon is held by someone of African ancestry. Everything up to about 400-meters is dominated by someone of west African ancestry. And it's utter domination in the 100-meters. The top 200 times are held by people of west African ancestry. No white, no Asian and no east African has ever broken 10 seconds in the 100-meters while dozens and dozens of west African blacks have.

Q: What about long-distance races?

A: At the longer distances, it is all dominated by east and north Africans who have a very similar genetic and evolutionary history.

Runners World catalogs all the races. Invariably, in the summer races of 5-K and 10-K distances, the top five or 10 finishers are Kenyans. In one race, one Kenyan, by other people's measure, should have been thrilled. He beat every single white, every Asian, in fact, everybody in the race except for the Kenyans. The problem was there were 13 Kenyans in that race and he came in last among that group. I think that's the kind of situation people -- not from east Africa -- face when they are in distance races.

People say, "Oh, it's because whites are lazier." Well, the evidence doesn't show that. There are many white distance runners who have actually moved to Kenya to try to replicate the Kenyan training program.

Q: So you are saying it is not just environment. You can't move to a higher altitude with higher hills and train to get the same results?

A: Not at all. Everything is bio-cultural; there are cultural factors. There are not a lot of Texans playing in the National Hockey League.

Q: And there are not a lot of blacks playing in the NHL.

A: Exactly. So there are cultural and environmental factors in everything. Then there is the measuring of body types and looking at physiology. We know, for instance, African Americans have 15 percent smaller lung capacity than whites do. That's why African-Americans and people of west African ancestry, in general, are poorer at distance running. There is not an African-American who is an elite 1500-meter runner or longer. That's a biological limit on what sport people can compete in.

Q: What is the mystery about what you call the "Kenyan Miracle"?

A: People try to say: It's the diet; it's the inspiration of Kip Kano -- who was a great runner in the '60s; it's something about the tribal tradition. And all those things are factors but, ultimately, the mystery is in the muscles; the mystery is in the biology. We know there are body type differences and the Kenyans, along with other east Africans who have a similar biology, have a body type that makes them premier middle- and long-distance runners.

Q: I know some blacks will denigrate your work and say you are diminishing the hard work of many people.

A: I think just the opposite when you really look at the facts. If that were the case, then I'd be denigrating whites because they dominate in weight lifting and wrestling and all the field events -- that's because of the natural upper body strength of whites. Or consider how Asians dominate in diving. But the reality is, the success of any individual athlete is the fire in the belly of that athlete. All I'm talking about is the trends we see. Scandinavians have blonde hair and blue eyes. We know that is true. We know that people of west African descent are the runners and jumpers. But that doesn't guarantee anyone's success. They still have to have heart and desire and skill and intelligence. That's part of the individual success factor.

Q: You looked at the genetic, cultural and physiological roots of black athletic superiority. What surprised you when you got into this?

A: One of the surprises was Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder was wrong. Blacks were not bred since slavery. I get this all the time, people thinking that that's true, including most African-Americans. But, we're talking about body types and physiology that is shaped over tens of thousands of years of evolution -- so that surprised me. The other surprise was I really came very firmly to the conclusion that there really is no inverse relationship.

Q: No inverse relation of what?

A: The taboo that somehow if you are physically gifted you can't be mentally gifted as well.

If Jack Nicholas sinks a long putt, nobody things his IQ went down. One thing the book tries to do is focus on the African-American scholar-athlete tradition that stretches into the 19th century. Almost all the great African-American athletes were scholars. And I don't think most people are aware of the positive correlation that has historically been associated with athletics -- if we're talking about the British scholar-athlete or going back to the Greeks and Romans.

Q: You have a statistic in your book that states, "since people of west African origin make up about 8 percent of the world population, the statistical chance of this happening purely by luck is .000000000000000000000000000000000001."

A: It is so beyond the possibility that these things could occur by pure chance or by population genetics. The utter domination of sprinting by people of west African ancestry and the same people's utter haplessness at distance races suggest that there is something at work here. All the science points this way. There is not ambiguous science on this. It has been measured by Olympic scientists. There are more than 800 footnotes in the book, and they document dozens and dozens of studies that go back years.

This is not controversial in the science world. "Taboo" was just reviewed by one of the editors of Physician and Sports Medicine and he gave it a great review.

Q: We need to talk about the evolution of some great athletes. Let's talk about football players.

A: What is interesting about football players is whites still dominate at certain positions, especially on the offensive line. And I think that's because of the natural upper body strength you still see in whites. I was looking at an article in USA Today and the top 10 40-meter sprinters were all blacks of west African ancestry -- and the top 10 pressers (weight lifters) were all whites of European ancestry.

Q: You had a funny line about how if a white athlete excels in a running position, he's given a cute little name.

A: Like Jason Williams of Sacramento -- he's "White Chocolate" or the "Thrilla in vanilla." Jason Seahorn gets that in New York; he's the Giants' "pet rock" -- the cornerback who plays a traditionally black position. They definitely consider him an anomaly, and he is an anomaly. He is one of only one or two in the NFL today. It requires too much foot speed and, basically, you are going to find that with people of west African ancestry and not with whites.

Q: Why are people so afraid to talk about this?

A: I was at a conference where there was this NYU professor who stood up and said, "Don't buy this book. It's racist." Someone in the audience asked, "What about the book did you find racist?" He replied, "I don't really know because I didn't read the book." However, on the whole, that has not been the reaction to it. But there is a racist tradition. I don't want to deny it. In fact, the book talks about it in hundreds of pages. Talking about differences between humans has been cast in a very racist and pseudo-scientific light. One of the goals of the book -- and I think that African-American journalists have really picked-up on this, as have scientists -- is to destroy that taboo. It really challenges the taboo that there is this inverse relationship between being physically gifted and being mentally gifted.

Q: What about boxing? There is an arena where blacks have always excelled and the argument has been it is because it is their only way out of the ghetto, that they literally have to fight their way out.

A: In some ways that is probably more true than the genetic factors because boxing takes a mix of skills. In fact, there will always be white heavy-hitting sluggers around; there traditionally have been. That is partly because of the natural upper body strength of whites. Whites, however, don't tend to be as quick as the black athletes are. But you look at the '30s and that is when Jews, believe it or not, were dominant in basketball and in boxing. Max Baer and a lot of the lower weight groups had Jewish champions.

Q: But wasn't that more a function of opportunity?

A: I think it was. What I'm saying is boxing is one of those sports where most sane people don't go after it. It really takes a toll on you in so many ways. So it really narrows the number of people who are going to go after that sport. I just don't think that is a sport that has universal appeal anymore. It really is a ghetto sport. Many blacks won't go into it now, just as whites stopped going into it, because they have more opportunities elsewhere. Opportunity really is a factor in boxing.

Q: Why have so few blacks gone into swimming as a sport?

A: I think there are social factors but there are also two very fascinating biological factors. One is that blacks have more dense muscles and skeletons. The lower body fat is a plus in many sports, but not so in swimming; it makes them what are called sinkers. Also, people of west African ancestry have about 15 percent less lung capacity; it makes them lousy distance runners and, virtually all swimming events, from 100-meters on up, are aerobic sports, so people of west African ancestry are not very good at them. I think that ends-up being a biological barrier.

Q: I want to touch briefly on segregation and integration of sports. Notwithstanding the physiological advantages, there have been outside factors that have mitigated involvement in sports.

A: Absolutely. No question about it. You go back into the '30s when Jews dominated basketball. One of the reasons they did was because they dominated the inner cities. Blacks were essentially excluded from basketball. Except when the white leagues and black leagues barnstormed together in semi-pro leagues, they didn't play very much. So you didn't have much of a level playing field until the last 25 years or so. Even with desegregation in the late '40s and early '50s, the barriers didn't fully go down until recently.

Q: Two classic examples you mention in the book: Jack Johnson and Jesse Owens.

A: Jack Johnson is a remarkable story. He was the first black heavyweight champion and one of the truly great heavyweight champions. But he was very independent and defiant. He used to carouse with white women just to irk the white establishment. But he beat all comers, including the great white hope of the time, Jim Jeffries. And yet, he was drummed-out of the sport for consorting with a white woman. He was convicted of that crime and ultimately fled overseas and ended-up being in jail for a while.

People were fearful of black sportsmen earlier in the century and Jesse Owens faced much of the same discrimination. He became the great champion who destroyed the Aryan myth in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But the moment he succeeded, people denigrated his success as being a product of his animal nature -- a racist assumption and something that my book attacks.

Q: What about women athletes?

A: Black women do dominate in the same way men dominate, especially in running, though in slightly less numbers. The west African ancestry domination of sprinting is still there at about 75 to 80 percent as well as east African domination of middle and distance running. But, you know, there are still huge taboos against women in general in sports and that really skews things. In Africa, there are still huge, huge barriers for women in sports. I think as those barriers drop and social and economic conditions improve, you are going to see close to the same domination by black women of east and west African descent as you see by men.

Q: You have a whole chapter on the renaissance of the black female athlete.

A: For years, there were some signs that whites were dominating in some sports, especially East German whites and Soviet whites. But now, information has poured-out that disputes that. There was one very famous athlete who ended-up being a male but who competed for 30 or 40 years as a woman. Drug use and steroid use at the very elite level by female athletes -- especially by the old sports machines in East Germany and the Soviet Union -- have skewed some of the results.

Q: Why hasn't someone in the media jumped on this book? I'm surprised that no one -- not "20/20," not "Dateline," not "Sixty Minutes" -- none of them have covered this. Is it just too controversial, too politically incorrect?

A: It's just too controversial. It has gotten more reviews than I think any book of the year. There have been more than 50 or 60 reviews. I've had an opportunity in many cases to make a case for what the book is about. And, overwhelmingly, about 80 percent of the reviews are positive. But people are afraid of the book. That's the "Taboo."