ICSSPE (International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education) Bulletin

Winter 2001

Review of:
Entine, J. (2000). Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why Were Afraid to Talk About It. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

Darlene A. Kluka, Courtney L. Snell, and Charles T. Smith, Jr., Grambling State University of Louisiana, USA.

The competitive sport experience and the pursuit of performance excellence continue to be prominently displayed in print and electronic media worldwide. The Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) continues to be foremost in the minds of those who compete and those who understand the quest for human peak performance through sport.

Sport scientists have been vested with the responsibility of explaining, determining cause/effect, and enhancing human sport performance, based on scientific evidence rather than on a series of anecdotal information. They have seemingly been reluctant, however, to investigate the role of race in human sport performance for fear of being accused of supporting or refuting racial superiority in performance success.

An Emmy-winning producer for NBC and ABC News and recipient of a National Press Club Award, Jon Entine has recently authored the book, Taboo: Why Black Athletets Dominate Sports and Why Were Afraid to Talk About It. In its pages, he attempts to discuss the issue of racial dominance in sport. Perhaps the two larger questions at issue involve human evolution and experience: (1) Can thousands of years of evolution be explained in fifty years of sport? And (2) Can human opportunity and experience predispose sport performance success?

To disclose information about the innate physical abilities of African Americans, Entine organizes the book into several portions: The Taboo, The Evidence, History of Race Science and Sports, The Segregation and Integration of Sports, Nature or Nurture?, What about Women?, and Final Thoughts.

In his opening chapters, Entine builds a case for Black superiority in sport through participation statistics in the professional sports of American football, baseball, track and field, and basketball. Clearly, male world record holders in sprints, middle distance, and marathons have a disproportionate ancestry in Africa. Runners of West African ancestry dominate in sprints (100 to 400 m), while East Africans tend to dominate middle distance. How this directly translates to African American runners is still somewhat inconclusive. Unfortunately, without the use of DNA, it is presently impossible to prove that there is a direct relationship between North and East African runners and their African American descendents. Records that once might have proven the details of immigration to the United States are virtually nonexistent in a substantial number of cases, as documented records were not kept from the days of slavery. Few scientists have investigated, in detail, somatotypes of African runners. What has been found is a similar body type and physiology. This type of anatomical and physiological inquiry is tied to the history of race science, which has been historically used in volatile ways (The Era of the Third Reich, the Boor Wars, the Killing Fields, etc.).

Additionally, Entine unveils the history of the American Black, who, brought to the United States as property, worked the land. Blacks were bred to become exquisitely designed physical specimens, strong, fast, agile, and powerful to do whatever physical labor was required by his owner. Because of this breeding, highly specialized features involving physical prowess became dominant in the race. This pattern of physical excellence was one of the major factors for the promulgation of the race. In the United States, those in power were raised on the myth that all men were created equal. This paradox continues to be a sticking point in the thinking of the nation.

Human migration patterns are also included in the discussion. Entine attempts to develop a logical argument for the role of DNA research in his explanation of this migration. He seemingly falls short in reaching a justifiable conclusion, alluding to a theory of the modern races with differing lineages. The theory, controversial and hotly debated in scholarly and religious circles, provides some credence to the evolutionary sequence of new species creation within a short period of time. He also candidly reveals the notion of "race without color". He describes in great detail the construct of humans as a species with varying degrees of skin pigmentation and adaptation based upon survival within the environment rather than distinct races, completely separate from one another.

Entine, throughout the book, continues to weave the paradigms of genetics and environment, and of sociological and physiological considerations. He skillfully crochets historical and sociological periods involving the segregation of American sport, the reintegration of American sport, and the tremendous influence the decade of the 1960s had upon sport as a microcosm of society. He is also successful in describing the plausibility of biocultural explanations for some sport stereotypes, such as Blacks cannot swim, or Whites cannot jump.

Although most of the book is devoted to an understanding and explanation of male supremacy in sport, a short section is devoted to female athletes. Simply put, historically, females have had substantially fewer opportunities for sport participation or any activities involving physical prowess than their male counterparts. According to Entine, there is insufficient documentation to substantiate differences or make meaningful comparisons between Black and White female athletes. He does allude to the notion that Black women have had a more difficult sojourn because of racial and gender bias. (Gender refers to feminine/masculine issues.)

In his closing chapter, Entine alludes to the construct of reverse racism, where Blacks are advantaged in elite sport participation. He also discloses the limitations of scientific information involving Black natural superiority in sport. Ultimately, the questions posed earlier, (1) Can thousands of years of evolution be explained in fifty years of sport? (2) Can human opportunity and experience predispose sport performance success? remain undeniably unanswered, but much more thoroughly understood.

This book is a MUST READ for anyone who is interested in the topic of genetics and sport. Entine's writing style is easy to read, compelling, and understandable. His documentation of facts, myths, and perceptions, is profound. Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why Were Afraid to Talk About It is a book that should guide part of the paradigm for scientific thinking in the new Millennium.