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Jewish World Review July 14, 2000/ 11 Tamuz, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well -- MY FRIEND Jon Entine has a new book whose very title has offended the liberalengsia: Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It. Never one to shy away from controversy, Jon set the field of business ethics afire several years ago when he exposed some minor flaws in the field's theories such as all the facts being wrong.

Facts are Jon's specialty. He pursues them, reveals them without bias and lets the fur fly for facts are pesky things in this era of feelings and emotings. Jon will have none of that and so wrote this book, inspired by the late Arthur Ashe, Jr., who, in his dying days, told Jon, "I have to believe that we blacks have something that gives us an edge. I want to hear from the scientists."

Jon acknowledges that "any evidence that innate differences exist between races or the sexes is considered inflammatory and inadmissible by the prevailing intellectual zeitgeist," for "the concept of 'equal in opportunity' has come to mean 'identical in capacity': everyone is born with equal potential, with what amounts to a tabula rasa . . . on which life experiences write our biography. . . . A country nurtured on the myth that all people are created equal is understandably uncomfortable talking about innate differences, particularly when it comes to race."

Indeed, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, a sports commentator, and Al Campanis, a Dodger exec, felt the wrath of that discomfort when they were sacked for commending the speed, ability and sports domination of black athletes. Andy Rooney escaped with a slap on the wrist and an admonition to stick to discussions of pudding and analgesics.

Reactionary censorship springs from equation of the term "racial" with "racist." To say that the crime rate among black juveniles is higher is not racist. The statement simply reports a fact and if those facts are ignored, the real issue, which is why the crime rate among black juveniles is higher, is never resolved. Racial data are ignored as the elephant in the room. New York punishes cabbies for not picking up black riders at night rather than deal with the issue of the crime rate among black males in New York. The cabbies react to reality - the crime rate among black males is high. Punishing them does nothing to resolve that underlying problem.

Jon's data on racial domination in sports show that white men don't jump all that well. In the NBA, not one white player has finished among the top scorers in recent years. You can count the white running backs, corner backs and wide receivers in the NFL on one hand.

Purchasing this book
-- linked in 1st paragraph --
helps fund JWR

You'd journey back to the 1950s to find a time when a white guy led baseball in steals. The only time whites have won in the Olympic 100-meters in decades was when the U.S. and other nations boycotted the 1980 Olympics. One European coach quoted in the book said, "If it weren't for the blacks, the United States would finish behind Ecuador."

The book is chock-full of scientific studies on racial dominance. When the best Scandinavian runners were taken to Kenya to compete, they were trounced by amateur runners there. David Hunter documented racial differences in sprinting and jumping ability and attributed the superiority of black athletes to documented lower body fat.

Therein Entine finds his issue. There are indeed physiological differences by race. Taboo documents genetic differences by race in everything from muscle response to body structure. With all these facts and an assertion of black racial superiority, why the hoopla over the book and its premise? The answer is IQ. Professor Jonathan Marks, whose work published in Human Biodiversity Entine criticizes, whined in his New York Times op-ed piece on Taboo, "If we accept that blacks are genetically endowed jumpers because "they" jump so well, we are obliged to accept that they are genetically unendowed at schoolwork because "they" do it so poorly." Professor Marks' subtle racism is more offensive than his weak logic.

Mr. Entine deals with the genetic inconsistency argument (that we inherit athletic ability but intelligence is not passed along) quite well in the closing chapter. He makes the obvious point that inherent ability is not the end of the story. Michael Jordan is not Michael Jordan because of genes, although there clearly is physical capability there. He is Michael Jordan because he has coupled his inherent ability with his drive, his discipline and, in many ways, his charm. Entine acknowledges the reality of genetic differences but refuses to succumb to genetically controlled outcome. Jon's tribute to the human spirit is the book's hook. He uses the successes of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Wilma Rudolph as evidence that remarkable physical ability coupled with work ethics and spirits transcends both competitors and racial prejudices.

In the end, my friend Jon reveals his true colors as he pays tribute to both G-d-given talent and the human spirit. Talent, whether physical or mental, often lies fallow, untapped by its holder. Small talents are cherished and often maximized by its holder's sheer will. Ultimately, Jon pays tribute to the unstudied aspects of athletic, or for that matter, any success, which is the remarkable synergism of inherent gifts, sweat and drive. It is neither wrong nor racist to speak of natural ability - it is wrong to say it is controlling for nature ends when the indomitable and very much individual human spirit kicks in for its say on outcome.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings