By Tom Robinson

        Jon Entine wrote a book about athletes, sports and no less a topic than human evolution. And in it, he concludes it is time to "acknowledge and even celebrate the obvious: It's neither racist nor a myth to say that `white men can't jump.' "If Entine, a former TV producer, weren't a self-employed writer and speaker, would he be worthy of being fired? Should he be protested? Ridiculed? Censored? Should his 2000 book, "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It," be burned?

        Who is Entine to investigate the wildly disproportionate influence of black athletes to the world's black population? Who is Entine to advise readers against holding their breath for a white man to set a world record in "any race,at any distance?" Besides being a 48-year-old, self-described white, Jewish liberal, who is Entine to state that:

A) "On the plantation . . . (blacks) were simply bred for physical qualities," and;

B) "Blacks, for physiological reasons, have better speed, quickness and ability. Baseball, football and basketball put a premium on these skills."

        Actually, Entine spoke neither "A" nor "B." A) was uttered by Yale graduate and former NFL star Calvin Hill, who is black. He said it in 1971, 17 years before CBS' Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder was fired for his barroom discourse on the same subject. B) came from baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, also black, in 1974.

        "We all talk about these issues," Entine said in an interview from his Southern California home. "There are reasons why Jason Williams of the Sacramento Kings is referred to as 'White Chocolate,' and why Jason Sehorn is the only white cornerback in the NFL."

        Entine will discuss some of the reasons Thursday night at Old Dominion. He will be joined by Kenneth Shropshire, a University of Pennsylvania professor and an Entine critic, at 8 p.m. in the Godwin Life Sciences Building auditorium.

        They'll debate racial stereotyping and the influence of genetics in sports. Presumably, Entine will offer a much-abridged look inside his book and the daring NBC News documentary he produced with Tom Brokaw in 1989 — "Black Athletes: Fact and Fiction."

        Considering America's racial struggles, both projects took serious guts to create. Entine notes that simply exploring possible genetic differences between whites and non-whites is an invitation to be stamped a racist and worse.

        The book, Entine writes, "grapples with the issue of whether it should have been written at all." Nearly two dozen publishers thought not – "The general reaction was, 'It's too hot for us to handle,' " Entine said – before PublicAffairs of New York City bought it.

        While many black academics, such as Hampton University's David Hunter, study the subject, black critics, such as sociologist Harry Edwards, deride it as a white obsession that is pointlessly divisive. It reinforces racist notions, they say, that "natural" black athleticism equals intellectual inferiority and degrades black accomplishment.

        Entine takes pains to debunk the latter and emphasizes the role that opportunity, education, environment and traditional hard work and determination play in athletic success.

        Still, Entine – using running as a "level playing field" – contends there must be physiological reasons why athletes of North African and East African descent monopolize middle-and long-distance running, while those of West African descent dominate sprinting and jumping.

        Sadly to him, even tennis great Arthur Ashe, who wrote an exhaustive history of black athletic achievement, was vexed by the evidence. "I have to believe that we blacks have something that gives us an edge," Ashe told Brokaw and Entine before he died. "Damn it. My heart says 'No' but my head says 'Yes.' "

        With "Taboo," Entine took three years, two trips to Africa and nearly 800 footnotes to amplify the voice inside Ashe's brain.

Reach Tom Robinson at trob@pilotonline.com

2001, The Virginian-Pilot