Part 1: Introduction
Alex Christensen: What drew you to the subject
of race and sports in the first place?
Jon Entine: Back in 1989, Tom Brokaw and I sliced off
a sliver of this controversy in the NBC News documentary Black
Athletes: Fact and Fiction. Tom was actually the impetus for
the program. Two years before, on the 40th anniversary of Jackie
Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the fall of the
color barrier in baseball, long-time Dodgers executive Al Campanis
was asked to appear on the ABC News program Nightline to
talk about his old friend. Campanis had earned a reputation as
a good baseball man with a big heart. But that evening on nationwide
television, Campanis asserted that blacks were naturally better
athletes, but made a number of racist links between black athletes
and intelligence. This very public self-immolation ended his career
almost immediately. But the brouhaha had a far more profound impact.
Campanis managed to touch every raw nerve of racial suspicions
and spark a nationwide debate over racial differences and the
growing prominence of black athletes.
Later that year, Brokaw was attending a New York Knicks game
with director Spike Lee when they got into a friendly debate over
the reasons behind black ascendancy in sports. The next day, Tom
called together a group of producers to discuss doing a story
on this issue. No one, including an African American producer,
wanted to do the story; we all believed it was too complicated
for television and frankly we feared for our careers if such a
story, no matter how carefully produced, provoked negative criticism.
However, after thinking about the story, I proposed to Tom that
we do an hour documentary instead of a short evening news piece.
He readily agreed.
It was a daunting undertaking. Here we were, two prototypical
"white men who couldn't jump" tackling a racial controversy
that was certain to touch raw nerves. "Friends said 'Don't
do it,'" recalls Brokaw. "But I thought that it was
important enough to address. Then as the broadcast got near, people
came around very quietly and would say to me 'You're doing the
right thing.' On the other hand, they didn't want to be associated
with it. It was probably as complicated and controversial a story
as I've ever gotten involved in, certainly up there with Watergate.
There were times right before and after it aired that I worried
if the storm would ever die down. Those were delicate moments."
The documentary aired in April 1989, just a few months after
another brouhaha over race, when a CBS sports broadcaster, Jimmy
"the Greek" Snyder, was fired for saying that blacks
were "bred" to be better athletes during slavery. It
was generally widely praised--the Denver Post, for example,
applauded NBC "for its bold venture, for the willingness
to tackle a sensitive subject... and for taking risks in the name
of truth-seeking." It also won numerous awards including
Best International Sports Film of the year. But it did divide
some journalists, sometimes along racial lines. A white columnist
at Newsday called it "a step forward in the dialogue
on race and sports," while a black colleague at the same
daily wrote that "NBC had scientists answer questions that
none but a bigot would conjure up." "[Brokaw] utterly
ignore[d] the facts in favor of the speculation of several scientists,"
charged Ralph Wiley in Emerge magazine. "His program
played like a badly cast farce."
I put the story to rest, but it kept emerging in the media in
one form or another, usually in sports magazines. Then The
Bell Curve came along, which raised the question of whether
intelligence and athleticism are inversely linked--a conclusion
I came to discover was not supported by science. I ended up circulating
a book proposal and the rest, as they say, is history. The book
appeared in January 2000 with the paperback coming out this spring.
You are a journalist who has written on business subjects
in the past. Did you have any background in anthropology before
you started researching Taboo?
I've had no formal academic training in anthropology. I've actually
written and reported--I was a TV reporter/producer for 18 years--about
a wide range of subjects, almost always as a cultural essayist.
In some respects, I don't see Taboo as much of a departure
in content or style from what I've written about in the past.
It required extensive reading, researching and interviewing within
the genetics and anthropological communities, but its ultimate
intent was to find a bridge between the academic and popular world-view
to help understand a complex cultural issue. Even my business
writings reflect that perspective. For instance, my articles on
ethics have focused on the contradictions of my generation--aging
baby boomers--who posture a lot about ethics in business but don't
act much different from the generation of 1950s capitalists that
they denigrate. I call it "rainforest chic," which is
the title of a cover story that I wrote on the phenomenon a number
of years ago for Report on Business, the monthly business
magazine published by the Toronto Globe and Mail.
In recognition of the complexity of the issues addressed in
Taboo--controversial topics in sociology, anthropology,
population genetics, and other fields---I submitted drafts of
the book for review and comment to a board of advisors and experts
drawn from a range of races, professional expertise, and countries.
Included are academicians, former Olympic athletes and journalists.
Part 2: Why Are There Racial Differences
What explains the greater success of athletes of African
descent in many sports?
Over the past 30 years, as equality of opportunity has steadily
increased in sports, spreading to vast sections of Asia and Africa,
equality of results on the playing field has actually declined.
Greater opportunity has led to greater inequality in performance
at the elite level between ethnic groups in a range of sports.
Blacks of exclusively West African ancestry make up
13 percent of the North American and Caribbean population but
40 percent of Major League Baseball players, 70 percent of the
National Football League, and 85 percent of the National Basketball
Nigeria, Cameroon, Tunisia, and South Africa have emerged
as soccer powers. Africans have also become fixtures in Europe's
top clubs even with sharp restrictions on signing foreign players.
In England, which was slow to allow foreigners and has a black
population of less than 2 percent, one in five soccer players
in the Premiership is black.
From Wales to South Africa, rugby has been played almost exclusively
by whites because of historical social restrictions and taboos--except
in New Zealand where Maori and Pacific Islanders have risen
to the top ranks far out of proportion to their numbers. Maori
women have also become the stars in netball, which demands extraordinary
The outsized success of Australian athletes with primarily
Aboriginal genes in running, tennis, boxing, and rugby and a
recent six-fold surge in the number of Aboriginal players in
the Australian Football League.
"Differences among athletes of elite caliber are so small...
they are very, very significant," says Robert Malina, Michigan
State University anthropologist and editor of the American
Journal of Human Biology, who has studied anatomical differences
between Olympic level athletes over more than 30 years. "The
fraction of a second is the difference between the gold medal
and fourth place."
Do genes proscribe possibility in some sports, running most specifically,
and are there some population-based patterns? The answer is an
indisputable "yes." Scientists have already identified
specific genes linked to athletic performance. In one of numerous
such studies, Steven Rudich, a transplant surgeon then at the
University of California at Davis, demonstrated that a single
injection of the EPO gene into the leg muscles of monkeys produced
significantly elevated red blood cell levels for 20 to 30 weeks.
EPO is a key factor in endurance and is found in some populations
more than in others.
Researchers isolating a gene responsible for muscle weakness
caused by the debilitating effects of muscular dystrophy may even
have stumbled upon a "smoking gun" that bolsters the
genetic case for population-linked differences in sprinting capacity.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Institute for Neuromuscular Research
in Sydney, Australia found that 20 percent of people of Caucasian
and Asian background have what they called a "wimp gene,"
a defective gene that blocks the body from producing a-actinin-3,
which provides the explosive power in fast-twitch muscles. Samples
drawn from African Bantus, specifically Zulu tribal members, showed
that only 3 percent had the wimp gene. Kathryn North, head of
the Neurogenetics Research Unit at the New Children's Hospital,
speculates that the need for a "speed gene" is dying
out because the speed to hunt animals or flee from enemies is
no longer necessary for our survival, although it certainly helps
Clearly, many of the phenotypic differences between populations
are grounded in the genotype. To what degree these genes confer
a competitive advantage on blacks when it comes to stealing bases,
running with the football, shooting hoops, or jumping hurdles
remains the $64,000 question. Since the first known study of differences
between blacks and white athletes in 1928, the data have been
remarkably consistent: In most sports, African-descended athletes
have the capacity to do better with their raw skills than whites.
Blacks with a West African ancestry generally have:
relatively less subcutaneous fat on arms and legs and proportionately
more lean body and muscle mass, broader shoulders, larger
quadriceps, and bigger, more developed musculature in general;
denser, shallower chests;
higher center of gravity, generally shorter sitting height,
narrower hips, and lighter calves;
longer arm span and "distal elongation of segments"--
the hand is relatively longer than the forearm, which in turn
is relatively longer than the upper arm; the foot is relatively
longer than the tibia (lower leg), which is relatively longer
than the thigh;
faster patellar tendon reflex;
greater body density, which is likely due to higher bone mineral
density and heavier bone mass at all stages in life, including
infancy (despite evidence of lower calcium intake and a higher
prevalence of lactose intolerance, which prevents consumption
of dairy products);
modestly, but significantly, higher levels of plasma testosterone
(3-19 percent), which is anabolic, theoretically contributing
to greater muscle mass, lower fat, and the ability to perform
at a higher level of intensity with quicker recovery;
a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscles and more anaerobic
enzymes, which can translate into more explosive energy.
Relative advantages in these physiological and biomechanical
characteristics are a gold mine for athletes who compete in such
anaerobic activities as football, basketball, and sprinting, sports
in which West African blacks clearly excel. However, they also
pose problems for athletes who might want to compete as swimmers
(heavier skeletons and smaller chest cavities could be drags on
performance) or in cold-weather and endurance sports. Central
and West African athletes are more susceptible to fatigue than
whites and East Africans, in effect making them relatively poor
candidates for aerobic sports.
White athletes appear to have a physique between central West
Africans and East Africans. They have more endurance but less
explosive running and jumping ability than West Africans; they
tend to be quicker than East Africans but have less endurance.
Still, it should not be forgotten that ancestry is not destiny.
"From a biomechanical perspective, the answer is 'yes,' race
and ethnicity do matter," says Lindsay Carter, a physical
anthropologist at San Diego State University who has studied thousands
of Olympic-level athletes over the years. "All of the large-scale
studies show it, and the data goes back more than a hundred years."
But he adds a critical caveat: No individual athlete can succeed
without the X factor--the lucky spin of the roulette wheel of
genetics matched with considerable dedication and sport smarts.
"There are far too many variables to make blanket statements
about the deterministic quality of genetics," Carter says.
"Nature provides an average advantage, yes. But that says
nothing about any individual competitor."
Part 3: Not All Africans Are the Same
Of course, not all Africans are alike. You document the
different performance of people of East and West African descent,
which provides good evidence for differences in physiology and
physique. Within these broad categories you highlight the performance
of individual groups like the Nandi of Kenya. Why do you think
these different populations evolved in such different ways?
This belief that all blacks are "the same" flows from
naive conceptions of race. Even many geneticists, who should know
better, perpetuate this fallacious view. For instance, in The
Bell Curve, the terms "black" and "white"
were used casually when in fact almost all of the data on blacks
focused on African Americans. There are some data from southern
Africa but almost no reliable studies of human differences based
on East Africa. Yet genetic testing has shown that forty percent
or more of the East African genome reflects interbreeding with
whites, particularly Arab slave traders, while the small African
population in the north mixed with the Berbers.
The 19th century concept of race based on skin color and defined
as "white, yellow, and black" is certainly biologically
na‘ve and is a problematic marker of human differences. It is
clearly a distortion to lump all who trace their recent origins
to Africa under one racial banner known as "blacks."
There are certainly many sub-populations within Africa that are
relatively distinct. It's very obvious in comparing body type
and physiological differences between some populations in West
Africa and East Africa. Many populations of primarily West African
ancestry have a much more mesomorphic physique as contrasted with
relatively ectomorphic East Africans. These are fuzzy generalizations,
however, as a result of human variation in body type. But the
patterns do hold up. There are also documented differences in
muscle composition: West Africans naturally appear to have a far
higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers, which produce
quick energy bursts. East Africans have a far higher percentage
of endurance-favoring slow twitch fibers. The lung capacity of
West Africans averages about 15 percent less than that of East
According to scientists, the pool of potential great sprinters
is deepest among athletes of West African descent. Claude Bouchard,
geneticist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana
State University, found that such populations have a higher percentage
of "energy efficient" fast twitch muscle fibers to complement
their naturally muscular mesomorphic physiques and other anthropometric
"West Africans have 70 percent of the fast type muscle
fibers when they are born," adds Bengt Saltin, director of
the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. "And that's needed
for a 100-meter race around 9.9 seconds." No white, Asian
or East African has ever cracked ten seconds in the 100. It's
no surprise that athletes of primarily West African origin, including
African Americans, hold the top 200 and 494 of the top 500 times.
In fact, there are more elite sprinters from any one of the largest
West African countries--Senegal, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria,
Ghana--then from all of Asia and the white populations of the
world combined. "The extent of the environment can always
be discussed but it's less than 20, 25 percent. It is 'in your
genes' whether or not you are talented or whether you will become
East Africans, in contrast, have a near perfect biomechanical
package for endurance: lean, ectomorphic physiques, huge natural
lung capacity, and a high proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers.
It's also a terrible combination for sprinting, which undoubtedly
helps explain East Africa's dismal sprinting history. Kenya has
tried desperately over the past decade to replicate its wondrous
success in distance running at the sprints, but to no avail. The
best Kenyan time ever in the 100 meters--10.28 seconds--ranks
somewhere near 5,000th on the all-time list.
What's the source of these differences? Although the move out
of Africa by modern humans to Europe and Asia occurred rather
recently in evolutionary time, scientists now know that in relatively
few generations, even small, chance mutations can trigger a chain
reaction with cascading consequences resulting in significant
racial differences or possibly even the creation of new species.
Economic ravages, natural disasters, genocidal pogroms, and geographical
isolation caused by mountains, oceans, and deserts, have deepened
these differences over time. This is the endless loop of genetics
and culture, nature and nurture.
Why did different characteristics evolve in different populations?
That's just too speculative a question for me to feel comfortable
in answering. I know what scientists know--there are many examples
of genetically based physical and physiological differences and
those differences have some impact on which populations thrive
in what sports.
The prickly reality is that some biologically-based differences
do appear to pattern by skin color, which tends to feed folkloric
myths. "Africans are naturally, genetically, more likely
to have less body fat, which is a critical edge in elite running,"
notes Joseph Graves, Jr., an African American evolutionary biologist
at Arizona State University and author of The Emperor's New
Clothes. "Evolution has shaped body types and in part
athletic possibilities. Don't expect an Eskimo to show up on an
NBA court or a Watusi to win the world weightlifting championship,"
he adds. "Differences correlate with geography and climate.
Endurance runners are more likely to come from East Africa. That's
a fact. Genes play a major role in this. The fact that monolithic
racial categories do not show up consistently in the genotype
does not mean there are no group differences between pockets of
populations," adds Dr. Graves. "There are some group
differences. It varies by characteristic. We see it in diseases.
But that's a long way from reconstructing century old racial science."
Although blacks are more likely than other populations to have
the sickle cell trait, blacks who have evolved in cooler climates
are no more likely to have the gene than any others. Although
many blacks are lactose intolerant, a result of the utter lack
of milk producing animals in much of sub-Saharan Africa, the Masai,
with their tradition of cow and goat herding, are perfectly able
to digest milk products. The Lemba, an African tribe whose Y-chromosomes
are closely linked to Jews from the Middle East, are nonetheless
categorized as "black" purely on the basis of a sloppy
marker, skin color. Many phenotypes and virtually all complex
phenomena such as intelligence and behaviors such as the penchant
for violence do not fall into neat folkloric categories.
Part 4: Other Sports?
Are there any sports that people from other parts of the
world may be better suited to?
As Taboo points out, we can observe distinct genetically
based phenotypic differences on display in world athletics. "As
scientists continue to study the complex interactions between
genes and the environment, population-based genetic differences
will continue to surface," notes University of Kansas molecular
biologist Michael Crawford, past president of the Human Biology
Association. "It's time we dispense with the notion that
athleticism or human differences in general are entirely due only
to biology or only to culture."
Although human variation in body type is immense, whites of Eurasian
ancestry are more likely to have an endomorphic physique. The
world's top weightlifters and wrestlers live in or trace their
ancestry from a swath of Eurasia, from Bulgaria through upper
Mongolia. The original inhabitants of this region likely arrived
some 40,000 or so years ago. Evolutionary forces in this northern
clime have shaped a population with a mesomorphic body type--large
and muscular, particularly in the upper body, with relatively
short arms and legs and thick torsos. These proportions tend to
be an advantage, particularly in sports in which strength rather
than speed is at a premium. For example, Naim Suleymanoglu, the
4-foot, 11-inch Turkish weightlifter, is considered the greatest
in the history of the sport. This region also turns out an extraordinary
number of top field athletes-javelin throwers, shot-putters, and
hammer throwers. Forty-six of the top 50 male hammer throwers
of all time and 43 of the top 50 female shot-putters trace their
primary ancestry to the Slavonic countries and southern Eurasia.
Where flexibility and dexterity are key, East Asians shine, such
as in diving and some skating and gymnastic events. Their body
types tend to be small with relatively short extremities, long
torsos, and a thicker layer of fat--a scaled down mixture of mesomorphic
and endomorphic characteristics. As a result, athletes from this
region are somewhat slower and less strong than whites or blacks,
but more flexible on average. "Chinese splits," a rare
maneuver demanding extraordinary flexibility, has roots in this
anthropometric reality. It's a key skill set for martial arts,
which of course also are rooted in Asian traditions. Those anthropometric
realities circumscribe Asian possibilities in jumping: Not one
Asian male or female high jumper makes the top 50 all-time. Many
scientists believe this distinctive body type evolved as adaptations
to harsh climes encountered by bands of Homo sapiens who
migrated to Northeast Asia about 40,000 years ago. The excavation
of an abundance of precise tools in Asia, including needles for
sewing clothes to survive cold winters, has led scientists to
speculate that Asians were "programmed" over time to
be more dexterous. Studies indicate that East Asians do have the
quickest reaction time of modern human populations, which some
have speculated may play a role in Asian domination of table tennis.
The cluster of islands that straddle the international date line
in the South Pacific, including Samoa and American Samoa, have
funneled hundreds of players into American football and Australian
rugby. Polynesia is a hotbed of human biodiversity. Polynesians,
especially the Samoans, are amongst the world's most mesomorphic
body types. A number of studies have shown that muscle bulk and
the degree of muscularity especially in the thigh and buttock
are important predictors of success in rugby players whereas the
opposite applies in such sports as distance running. This genetic
admixture helps explain why athletes from this region are large,
agile, and fast.
These are certainly a few of the athletic "hotspots"
in the world today and we will no doubt identify more over time.
There is a feedback loop between genetics and culture in which
small but measurable differences in anatomy become encoded in
social stereotypes, greatly magnifying these small differences.
We see that today in basketball (dominated by blacks of West African
ancestry), distance running (dominated by East Africans), and
weight lifting (dominated by Eurasian whites). As the world's
playing field becomes level, and talent begins to trump opportunity,
it is certainly possible that we will see more hotspots emerging
in different sports.
Despite these patterned differences, in anatomy and sports performance,
we have to remind ourselves that social and cultural factors can
sometimes wash out genetic distinctions. It was not too many years
ago when it was widely assumed that blacks were too frail and
not coordinated enough to compete in baseball, basketball, and
It is critical that we move away from traditional "racial"
categories based on skin color and facial characteristics to a
broader notion of human biodiversity. Scientists now isolate groups
based on genotypic patterns--gene frequencies and proteins--rather
than purely phenotypic characteristics. Geneticists and anthropologists,
rightly concerned about the historical misuse of the race concept,
have come up with more refined definitions of human groups to
help separate that racist chaff from the DNA wheat. For instance,
Stanford University geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza calls them
populations" or "sub-populations" while University
of Michigan anthropologist Loring Brace prefers the term "clusters."
Their meaning is the same: Based on the characteristics or set
of phenotypes being analyzed, there are many examples of patterned
The great paradox of human biodiversity research, which is focused
on finding the genetic basis to many diseases, is that the only
way to understand how similar humans are is to learn how we differ.
If there were no patterned biological differences, the entire
Human Genome Project would be rendered meaningless. It is well
known in medicine that even tiny genetic differences between populations,
which show up in gene sequences and protein arrangement, can have
powerful health consequences.
For instance, northern European whites are more likely to contract
multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis as a result of their genetic
history. Blacks are genetically more predisposed than others to
colon and rectal cancers. Ashkenazi (European) Jews are 100 times
more likely to contract Tay-Sachs, a degenerative neurological
disorder, than other ethnic groups are because of their relative
genetic insularity until the second half of the 20th century.
The Pima Indians have one of the highest rates of diabetes in
the world. Population frequencies of many polymorphic genes vary
with population clusters. A condition called primaquine sensitivity
is responsible for the intensity of the reaction to certain drugs
among African, Mediterranean, and Asian men. Another mutated gene
accounts for the sensitivity of the Japanese to alcohol. Other
genetic polymorphisms (found in specific population groups) are
associated with sensitivity to certain foods, type one diabetes,
QT syndrome (a heart disease), asthma, thrombophilia (bleeding
disorder), and an inability to metabolize common drugs like codeine,
beta-blockers and antidepressants. Jews, Finns, Sardinians, and
Basques are examples of groups with small, historically insular
populations, who have distinctive genetic pedigrees. These are
all "racial" differences of a kind. By contrast, most
other people of European origin are so genetically mixed that
it's impossible to tell a German from a Frenchman.
Humans are different. While genes proscribe possibility, humans
are individuals and subject to cross currents of biological and
social factors that are complexly intertwined. In athletics, genes
circumscribe innate possibility, not innate talent.
Part 5: Is Talking about Differences Racist?
For much of our history, racial differences and physical
differences between men and women were assessed in words of superiority
and inferiority. Do you think we have reached the stage where
we can talk about "racial" differences without being
There exists a blurry line between a healthy fascination about
human differences and a white obsession, between an interest in
race and promoting racism. No question about that. And as you
know, Taboo does not shirk from examining the racist historical
context of so-called race science. I believe the reaction to the
book suggests that it is very difficult to discuss race without
Intriguingly, the reception to the book broke down along racial
lines (to some degree) but not the way most people, including
I, would have anticipated. The best reaction has come from black
journalists and scholars (with some notable exceptions). In preparing
the book, I submitted the manuscript for review to a board of
advisors and experts drawn from a range of races, professional
expertise, and countries. "You will be accused of spouting
old fashioned racism for even raising the issue of African American
superiority in athletics," wrote board member Earl Smith,
Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at
Wake Forest University, a leading black scholar and author of
several books on race and sports. "All this beating around
the bush has to stop. This is a good book. I am quite excited
with the arguments that are raised." Dr. Smith ultimately
offered to write the preface.
It soon became apparent that many blacks have become irritated
to the point of anger by the patronizing censorship and condescension
of some white journalists and academicians who believed that even
discussing racial differences was racist. "I am an editorial
columnist," wrote Bill Maxwell of the St. Petersburg Times
in a personal note to me. "I reviewed your book because I
enjoyed reading it. It cut through all of the bullshit. I am black."
"Taboo is both provocative and informed," added
John Walter, professor of American Ethnic studies and director
of the Blacks in Sports Project at the University of Washington,
in the Seattle Times. "Entine has provided a well-intentioned
effort for all to come clean on the possibility that black people
might just be superior physically [for the record, Taboo
asserts not superiority but anatomical differences between populations,
a crucial distinction], and that there is no negative connection
between that physical superiority and their IQs."
Black scholars were particularly taken by the focus on black
sports history, including the illumination of the scholar-athlete
tradition among African Americans. The editor of the Journal
of the African American Male called it "compelling, bold,
comprehensive, informative, enlightening." Paul Ruffins,
former editor of NAACP's Crisis magazine, wrote in the
Washington Post that "Taboo is an informed
exploration of a fascinating phenomenon. Because it bravely tackles
the exhaustive list of ideas that must be considered in any open-minded
discussion of this topic, Taboo could well be the most
intellectually demanding sports book ever written." "The
real value of the book," noted Brian Gilmore, a reviewer
on Africana.com, "is its willingness to address racist thought
in the context of the black athlete and seek an honest dialogue
on the topic."
Other reviewers, particularly white social science academics,
seemed less interested in honest dialogue and more focused on
whether blacks might be offended by the topic, a view which proved
unfounded. One sports history professor denounced the book at
a conference on race, before confessing that he had not read what
he was condemning. "I wouldn't read a book that suggested
that there are meaningful racial differences," he asserted
Race is to America what the Goddess Discord was to Homeric legends:
Invite her to the banquet and she brings trouble with her, ignore
her and she visits trouble on you. From Thomas Jefferson's words,
"all men are created equal" to "separate but equal,"
and from "equality of opportunity" to "equality
of outcome," the subject of race refuses to vanish from our
national life. As anthropologist Vincent Sarich noted, "When
we discuss issues such as race, it pushes buttons and the cerebral
cortex just shuts down."
To some degree, Taboo had to scale a wall of political
correctness. Dozens of journalists, including such high profile
media outlets as ESPN sports, CBS, and the Los Angeles Times,
initially refused to even discuss Taboo--as a matter of
conscience, some asserted. It was popularly perceived as a skunk
in heat. For instance, shortly before it appeared in bookstores,
The New York Times Magazine dropped plans to publish an
adaptation because the very idea of discussing human differences,
not the book itself, seemed to them too hot to handle. "Our
reluctant decision to drop it is no reflection of my regard for
your work, which remains high," wrote Kyle Crichton, who
had championed the article. "In brief, the whole subject
worries my editors."
"It is perhaps the existence of these lingering attitudes--still
prevalent throughout much of this country--which explains some
of the backlash against Taboo's central thesis," wrote
Michael Crawford. "While the sections concerning Entine's
hypothesis will surely attract the greatest attention, they actually
form a relatively small portion of the book," he added. "The
majority of Entine's tome is concerned with outlining the origins
and history of the 'taboo' itself--the reasons why Americans are
reluctant to talk about human differences in general, and athletic
differences in particular--, and it is here that Entine is at
Hopefully, the nuanced reaction from blacks and more recently
by many scientists suggests that we are maturing in the United
States and are able to discuss complex issues in a more thoughtful
way. The question is no longer whether these inquiries will continue
but in what manner and to what end. Caricaturing population genetics
as pseudo-science just devalues legitimate concerns about how
this information will be put to use. If we do not welcome the
impending onslaught of genetic and anthropological data with open
minds, if we are scared to ask and to answer difficult questions,
if we lose faith in science, then there is no winner; we all lose.