Debate and Chat

April 25, 2001

Question: We are all very familiar with the fact that certain races have different medical issues, yet when it comes to sports, it's something very different. Why do you think sports are treated differently?

Joe Graves: I disagree with the premises that all races have certain medical issues. My real problem is with the way race is being used here.

Jon Entine: We can make a lot of progress in understanding why blacks dominate certain sports.

Question: A review of the reviews of "Taboo" suggests that the reception was warmer and more constructive amount black scholars than among whites, who seem to suggest that even discussing racial differences promotes racism. Why do think this is so?

Jon Entine: Can we talk about certain populations instead of using the word race? East Africans and West Africans are black skinned and share many facial characteristics but their body types are very different. There is not one black race; there are many black populations throughout the world many with different characteristics.

Jon Entine: I believe the black scholars and African Americans in general are interested in discussing the roots of racism. Blacks are eager to understand why and how whites have used scientific notions to justify racism. Yet, they are more open to discuss these issues than whites who are afraid of offending black sensibilities.

Joe Graves: I agree with Jon. I have seen many reviews that have nothing to do with what he wrote.

Question: Black athletes excel in sports. Since only the healthy, strong, big blacks were brought here, is that where today's blacks get their genetic make-up?

Joe Graves: Absolutely not. There is no evidence that there is any kind of selective breeding during slavery. As breeding in slavery goes, the people we call black in America have on average have 6 to 30 percent European and American Indian genes.

Jon Entine: The difference is we see in body type between African Americans and whites are the result of thousand of years of evolution. As Joe said, a few hundred years will not change whatever evolutionary footprints have left on various populations.

Question: Why are there no black racecar drivers?

Joe Graves: I think in the case of racecar driving, it's not a large component of Black culture.

Jon Entine: There are no Texans black, white, or Hispanic starting in the National Hockey League. Social and cultural factors of course play a role in who plays and star in sports.

Question: Also, Mr. Entine, how do you explain the great athletic abilities of Bobby Hull, who was once described as the "perfect mesomorph?" Thanks!!!

Jon Entine: All-star athletes are what might be called mutant. They are great sports specimens. And frankly many of the athletes that display their talents at the Olympics and other sports have unique physical characteristics.

Joe Graves: I think that athletic ability run in families and there are different amount of families that are predisposed in given populations to be stars in any sport. I played hockey myself as a youth and scored like Phil Esposito.

Question: In boxing specifically, hasn't the social standing of a group or race played a predominant role in that groups dominance of the sport and not genetics?

John Graves: earlier this century the Irish and the Jews were among the best boxers. We now see many Latin boxers so clearly cultural factors matter. However physiology matters as well and it is probably not a coincidence that the fastest and quickest boxers are of West Africa ancestry and the more plodding sluggers tend to be white.

Joe Entine: I'm going to disagree because I think boxing of all sports show where cultural and socio economic factors play a role. In particular, who is going to be willing to go into this sport at a serious level? Frankly, anyone with a better choice is going to choose another sport.

Question: Could whites be genetically dispositional to excel in sports that blacks don't?

Joe Graves: Certainly because local populations differ in physical characteristics you may find some European populations that excel in a given sport but not all European population would excel in all sports.

Jon Entine: There is no question that certain populations of whites do excel in particular sports. For instance weight lifting, wrestling and the field events because of generally stronger upper bodies, which are genetically endowed. But this is not a white phenomena it affects people in far eastern Europe and Asia whose populations have a distinct body type. It's not about race it's about how populations, some quite small, have evolved.

Question: Mr. Entine, are Asians naturally more intelligent because their brains are larger than other races? Brain to body ratio?

Joe Entine: That is a notion rooted in a pseudo-scientific view of human differences. We know for instance that men have larger brains then woman but there is no evidence by any measurement that men are more intelligent than women. Crude concepts of racial differences such as skull size just perpetuate racial myths that one population is superior or inferior to others.

Joe Graves: There are real problems with the studies that report larger Asian brain size. It is hard to really measure population differences in brain to body ratio. Finally, Neanderthals had larger skulls than modern humans but Neanderthals went extinct and modern humans currently rule the planet.

Question: Why is this considered to be an issue at all? Isn't being entertained by the skills and athletic ability of players, regardless of color, the reason that we watch?

Joe Graves: I'm concerned with trying to understand human variation. I don't use the term black and white and yellow to describe that. We can learn a great deal about our society if we are unafraid to learn about who we are as a species.

Jon Entine: We talk about what we feel on the playing field all the time, but usually in back of the bar whispers. The result is that we perpetuate racist notions that being physically gifted that one is intellectually inferior. Only by discussing the science and history of human differences can we hope to dissipate the racially charged atmosphere the swirls around these issues.

Question: Mr. Entine, I agree with you that there are different body types in different regions of the world, which lend themselves to specific sports. How do you explain superior white athletes such as Bjorn Borg and Steffi Graf who would have made great sprinters?

Jon Entine: You may know something I don't but I have no reason to believe that Borg or Graf would have made great sprinters. They are great tennis players because they were lucky enough to win in that well of genetics and then to work their tails off to take advantage of their biological gifts. That's what makes great athletes.

Joe Graves: Genes play a role in athletic success but so do environment, culture and motivation. One of the best point guards I have ever seen had his career ruined by drugs. He had all the athletic ability of Michael Jordan but we never saw him in the NBA.

Question: How do you respond to the argument that social and economic circumstances (i.e. blacks have to "play their way out of the ghetto") cause black athletes to have better athletic ability than other races?

Joe Graves: I think that we should recognize that there are socio-economic differences within African Americans, but for the most part most are still poor. Therefore given what roles society bottles for these individuals dedication to sports is understandable. However, we should also realize that less than one percent of the kids who ever picked a basketball would play at the pro level. So, in many ways the dream of pursuing pro sports is a false proposition.

Jon Entine: No one would dare suggest that white domination of skiing or hockey or soccer results from whites desperate to escape poverty. To suggest that of blacks is racist. It also minimizes the incredible variety of factors that go into athletic success. Genes may set possibilities but to become an elite athlete you must possess the X factors: drive, intelligence, and ambition. Ancestry is not destiny.

Question: How would you explain the success of so many white, European basketball players in the NBA today? If it's not the motivation to get out of the "ghetto", then what is it?

Joe Graves: I think that basketball is now becoming a world sport and as it does, we are going to see more represented in the NBA. There are many ways to be a good basketball player. No one would suggest that John Stockton could out jump Vince Carter. In game 7 of the NBA finals, I'd rather have Stockton on my team.

Jon Entine: In total numbers there are more poor whites in the US than poor blacks barely escaping dire poverty is not enough alone to guarantee success.

We would like to thank everyone for coming tonight. Would you gentlemen like to have a closing statement?

Joe Graves: There is tremendous variations in body types and physiology in the world's populations. That variation maybe related to individual abilities for certain sports. It is highly likely that Eskimos will never dominate basketball or sprinting, while Watusi are not likely to be good at power lifting or speed skating. This however is not the same as reconstructing the concept of race. Pygmies will not dominate the NBA either. Within populations, some families will give rise to great athletes and others will not.

Jon Entine: Genetics frightens people. Yet, sports provide a way to help us discuss this new paradigm, which merges the cultural view of humans with the genetic prospective. Indeed if we do not welcome the impending genetic revolution with open minds, if we are scared to ask and answer difficulty questions if we lose faith in science then there is no winner. We all lose. As professor Walter E. Williams of George Mason University has written, "If decent people don't discuss human bio diversity, we concede the turf of black and white races."

HOST: Well folks, we are out of time. On behalf of AOL and all of its members worldwide, we want to thank you gentlemen for taking the time to come and share your views and knowledge with us.

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