Published on January 21st, 20135
Why Black People Are Good at Sports
We have all noticed it when watching NFL, NBA, or track & field, the lion’s share of athletes are of African origin. In contrast, Asians are almost absent in the world of sports. Popular Social Science has taken a closer look at why this is the case.
The facts show that East Africans own every distance running record. In most of the sports people of African descendant dominate. Why have black people dominated sports? Are they somehow physically better? Research shows that it is not just being black that matters. Where in Africa your ancestors come from makes the huge difference.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. White people dominate sports that require expensive equipment, such as golf, sailing, hockey, etc. And, just as “white men can’t jump”, it is also the case that “black men can’t swim.” One of the reasons for the latter fact is that black people have denser skeletons and lower levels of body fat, a physical trait inherited from the tropical areas of Africa.
In the U.S., sports are dominated by men and women of West African descent. The same reason, namely the low body fat, provides blacks of West-African origin with an advantage in sprinting, as well as in football and basketball. When it comes to long distance running, East-Africans excel due to their lack of a fully developed Gastrocnemius, also known as the lower calf muscle.
Asians are generally smaller and are thus underrepresented in the sports where especially blacks excel. However, they do well in sports that require quickness and agility.
According to Jon Entine a huge amount of research show that elite black athletes have a phenotypic advantage. They have bodily characteristics that evolved over tens of thousands of years of evolution. While people of African descent have spent most of their evolutionary history near to where they originated, the rest of the world’s populations have had to modify their African adaptations after migrating to far different regions and climates.
It is important to point out that the evolved differences are also mediated by environment and culture. These factors can amplify or diminish genetic variations. Entine proposes a biocultural explanation stating that cultural conditions can amplify smaller but significant differences in performance related to heredity. Inherited physiological differences may therefore prove meaningless without rigorous training.
Entine, Jon (2000). Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It. New York: BSS Public Affairs.
*Cover photo by Zennie Abraham, sprint photo by Sawyer Law