WARNING: If you’re a white bigot, don’t read the following article. It might cause your red neck to get even redder. The premise of this article is, quite simply, blacks are better athletes than whites. Authors Antonio and Street back it up mostly with cold, hard, seemingly irrefutable facts.
Why has it been published on T Nation? Well, it’s about sports, it’s about muscle, and it’s something other publishers are loathe to touch. It’s too controversial. I guess that’s what attracted us to the article in the first place.
But why is it controversial? Anyone who watches sports must have noticed that there are a disproportionate number of black professional athletes out there.
Read the article. Tell us what you think.
“Well, I always say that the best athletes in the world play in the NBA. I say this because the hand-eye coordination is there, the speed, the jumping ability. They are the best conditioned athletes in the world, in my opinion… It is a fact, you look at it and it goes from somebody as small as Mugsy Bogues that plays in that league to someone as big as Shaquille O’Neil. Hakeem Olajuwon is probably 7 foot with the agility of someone that is about 6 foot. Its just a fact that blacks are better. I don’t know why, it’s maybe some genetic makeup or something, but it’s there.”
— Andre Ware, NFL Quarterback and Heisman Trophy Winner
The Myth of Black and White Athletic Equality
It is apparent to most of us that there are profound differences between individuals when it comes to academic, professional, or athletic performance. In fact, it’s so obvious that we expect someone to be the tallest, shortest, smartest, fastest, or dumbest within any group of people. Your experience in grade school through college made it apparent that not all of us could make the dean’s list much less play on a Division I football team. Some people just don’t have the tools.
Why then do people assume that all groups of people (i.e. races, ethnicities, etc.) have the same talents and capacities? Certainly, this country was founded on the belief that all men (and presumably women) were created equally? Was it not? The Declaration of Independence states that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” President Jefferson was a brilliant man, but with regard to all men created equal, certainly in a biological sense, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a huge difference between male black and white athletes when it comes to speed, i.e. sprint performance, particularly the 100-meter (100m) dash. The top twenty fastest times in the men’s 100m dash in 1994 were all held by blacks (from different countries such as US, Canada, Nigeria, and Great Britain). An examination of the Olympic 100m dash in the past 20-30 years shows an utter dominance by black athletes. Within the US, it is obvious that black Americans dominate the 100m dash at the high school and college level. The “speed” positions in professional American football (i.e. tailback, wide receiver, cornerback) are almost exclusively held by blacks. In fact, there was just a single white athlete starting at any of those three positions in professional football in 1997.
Such a huge discrepancy, yet the most common (public) explanation for this phenomenon is that blacks are socialized to excel at these events. Really? You mean to say that out of a country of approximately 260 million, where blacks make up only 12% of the population, in which there are 5-6 times more whites than blacks, that there are no white guys who excel at these activities? Furthermore, you never see an Asian (American or otherwise) competing in the higher echelon of these sports. Nor do you see any Hispanics or Latinos in these events. Granted, socialization may explain, in part, the apparent dominance of blacks in football or basketball, but this explanation is sorely inadequate when it comes to running.
Everyone can run, and it doesn’t matter whether you are in China, Russia, or the US You don’t need any special equipment and it doesn’t require any specialized skills. Because of the ubiquity of running, one would expect somewhat proportional representation among all races or groups of people in world class competition (e.g., Olympics). That, of course, is based on the premise that all races have equal capacities for running fast.
Yet, the reality is that one group, blacks, win nearly every sprint race. Whites will on occasion win (Valeri Borzov of the former Soviet Union won the 100m and 200m dash at the 1972 Olympics). However, Asians will, in our humble opinion, never be competitive with black Americans in world class sprinting. The idea that blacks are socialized to excel in sprints is disputable in that many of these black athletes come from countries other than the United States. Are blacks from the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, and West Africa also “socialized” to run fast?
Besides, in a country with over 20% of the world’s population, why can’t China field a 100m sprinter to compete with black Americans who represent a paltry 0.6% of the world’s population. Is there a white or Asian equivalent of Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson out there?
It certainly stands to reason that if races differ in facial shape, height, weight, skin color, or hair texture, why should a characteristic such as running fast be identical between different groups? It would seem extremely naive to believe that we all have the same capacities and abilities.
Scientific evidence suggests that black infants are more advanced than white children in motor development during the first two years of life. Several studies which have compared black and white American infants suggest a strong race difference in motor development. Fourth, fifth, and sixth grade black boys and girls run the 35 yard dash faster than their white peers. Also, black boys in high school have a greater vertical jump than white boys. In a review by Robert Malina in The Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences (1988), the author compiled several studies of motor performance between black and white males between 1938 and 1976.
Even over this extended period of time, the results are remarkably consistent. That is, blacks did better in tests of motor ability at all time points. Blacks performed better in the dash (sprint). How much of a difference in motor performance can be attributed to environmental vs. genetic causes? The fact that black children demonstrate better motor abilities than whites does not support the idea that blacks are pushed into sports which require speed. Certainly, these children have not had ample time nor the instruction or coaching to train for speed.
Real World Speed
In an intriguing study done in 1988 at Ohio State University by David W. Hunter (now at Hampton University), he compared laboratory and “real-world” measurements of anaerobic power or performance. He examined 74 black and 62 white males (avg age = 16.5 yr). There were no differences in age, height, weight, lean body weight, and body mass index (body weight in kilograms divided by the square of body height in meters). However, black subjects had significantly less percentage of body fat. There were no differences in anaerobic power measured using the Wingate test and the Margaria power test (two common laboratory tests used to measure anaerobic performance).
However, black subjects performed significantly better at the vertical jump and 40-yard dash (4.8 vs. 5.0 seconds) than the white subjects. A difference of 4.8 and 5.0 seconds in the 40-yard dash may seem insignificant. But on the playing field, this numerically small difference could translate into a huge performance difference. All things being equal, the faster athlete is usually the better athlete.
Interestingly, Dr. Hunter performed a statistical manipulation called Analysis of Covariance, or ANCOVA for short. ANCOVA for the 40-yard dash with the percent fat as the covariate, according to Dr. Hunter, “washed out” the statistical difference in the 40-yard dash between the groups. What this means in English is that when you equate blacks and whites for percent fat, then there is no difference in sprint performance. Furthermore, when height, weight, percent fat, lean body mass, and body mass index were used as covariates, there was no longer any differences between blacks and whites.
But what’s so intriguing about the Hunter data is that even while equalizing percent fat for the black and white subjects, the black subjects still had a faster dash time! (4.851 sec vs. 4.947 sec). The fact of the matter is, blacks have on average, much less body fat than whites. And if this variable provides black males with an advantage in sprinting, then so be it. Massaging the data with various statistical tests only clouds the obvious facts. Blacks and whites are not the same. Blacks (of all ages) do run faster than whites on average. Yes, there are fast white guys, but not many.
Fast Versus Slow Muscle
Muscle is the key to athletics, period! There is nothing more obvious in comparing the physiques of different athletes than the way their muscles are shaped for a specific task or purpose. Keep in mind that sprint (and endurance) athletes at the world-class level tend to exhibit extreme differences in fiber-type percentages. Sprint athletes may have 75% or more fast-twitch fibers while distance runners may have 75% or more of slow-twitch fibers. For the most part, fiber type composition is a product of heredity; however, training may alter it slightly, but not enough to result in the high percentage of fast-twitch fibers needed in elite sprinters.
Canadian scientists, Drs. J. Simoneau and C. Bouchard, have estimated that 40% of the phenotypic variance of fiber type is due to environmental influences (i.e. exercise) while 45% is associated with genetic factors. (The remaining 15% is due to sampling error). So in actuality, all athletes are born with a given potential. Training will maximize that potential. But if you’re not born with the potential, you will never become a world-class sprinter or distance runner.
Does the predominance of blacks in sprints suggest that blacks, as a group, tend to be better endowed with fast-twitch muscle fibers? There is only one scientific report which measured skeletal muscle characteristics in a black and white population. Ama, et al. examined 23 black male African students from Cameroon, Senegal, Zaire, Ivory Coast, and Burundi and 23 male Caucasian students from Laval University in Canada.
These were untrained sedentary individuals. They were matched for age, body weight, and body mass index (weight measured in kilos divided by the square of height in meters). Muscle biopsies from the vastus lateralis muscle of the thigh revealed that the white subjects had 8% more Type I muscle fibers and 7% less Type IIa fibers than black subjects. Enzymes involved in the phosphagenic and glycolytic metabolic pathways were 30-40% higher in black subjects. These metabolic pathways are the ones used during quick burst activities (i.e. sprint).
These results are compatible with the idea that blacks, as a group, seem to be better endowed to perform well in sprint events. We are aware, however, that other factors besides muscle fiber type can contribute to excellence in the sprint. In a similar study, scientists compared the performance of 15 black men from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Tchad, and Zaire and 17 white Canadians of French descent.
They were matched for weight, height, body mass index, fat-free mass, and thigh volume. They did maximal isometric contractions of the knee extensors for 10, 30, and 90 seconds and found no statistically significant difference in maximal force or total work performed. However, there was a trend for blacks to exceed whites in peak power output (9% higher) although it was not statistically significant.
Keep in mind, however, that very small differences in physical performance may translate into a very meaningful difference in the “real” world of athletic competition. Just check out any major track meet and examine the differences in time between first and last place. The difference in time between first and second place is often much less than 1 percent. The difference between first and last place is a mere 2-3 percent.
When the difference between the gold and silver medal is determined by 100ths of seconds, it is obvious that just because a statistical difference is not demonstrable, it does not necessarily mean that real performance differences do not exist! So in reference to the aforementioned Canadian study, it is true that statistically significant differences were not found between blacks and whites in peak power output (albeit blacks had a 9% higher average value); nevertheless, it is obvious that differences much smaller than that result in very profound effects on who the winners and losers are in a race.
More Muscle, Less Fat
Anthropometry (the science of measuring the human body) and body fat distribution was ascertained in over 100 Anglo-, black-, and Mexican-American men and women. Black-American men had significantly less total fat than either Anglo- or Mexican-American men. Black men also had less arm fat than both groups and less truncal fat than Mexican-Americans. Black-American women tended to carry less body fat than Mexican-American women; however, they did not significantly differ from Anglo-American women.
There is ample data to show that blacks of all ages do possess less absolute and relative body fat than whites. In addition, blacks possess greater appendicular muscle mass than whites or Asians. This racial difference certainly confers an advantage in which extreme leanness is a prerequisite.
Longer Legs, But a Shorter Trunk
“We are built a little differently, built-for-speed skinny calves, long legs, high asses are all characteristics of blacks. That’s why blacks wear long socks. We have skinny calves, and short socks won’t stay up. I’ll argue with any doctor that physically we’re geared to speed, and most sports have something to do with speed.”
— OJ Simpson, Time Magazine, 1977
Now we’re not so sure about the socks, but as far as the rest of the statement, we actually agree with the Greatest Running Back (and double murderer) ever to grace the football field. The length of the upper and lower extremities between blacks, whites, and Asians is obviously different to anyone with 20/20 vision. Asians (East Asians: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese) tend to be smaller with relatively short extremities and long torsos. Blacks tend to have relatively long extremities with short torsos and whites are somewhere in between.
As early as 1939, it has been reported that as a group, blacks tend to have longer arms and legs (as a percentage of height), narrower hips, and more slender calves than whites. According to noted scientist Robert Malina, “black youth have absolutely and relatively longer lower extremities than Mexican-American and white youth.”
No Bones About It
The greater body density of blacks is likely due to a higher bone density. In a study by Bell et al., they compared bone density in 59 normal white men and 40 normal black men (ages 20-50). They found that the bone mineral density was higher in blacks than in whites measured at the lumbar spine, trochanter, and femoral neck. In a similar study which matched black and white men in mean weight, height, and body mass index, black men again had higher bone mineral densities at every site measured (5% for the radius, 10% for the lumbar spine, and 20% for the femoral neck).
Scientists believe that blacks have heavier bones at all stages of life, including infancy. Skeletons of blacks exceed white skeletons and male skeletons exceed female skeletons in mean weight and density.
That notion that bone density among American (and many African) blacks exceeds that of white and Asians is beyond dispute. Blacks maintain such a difference despite lower calcium intake than whites and a higher prevalence of lactose intolerance which prevents them from consuming dairy products.
It is known that testosterone is anabolic with regard to skeletal muscle and catabolic with regard to fat. Could this explain the increased muscularity and decreased fat mass of blacks vs. whites and other races or ethnicities? In the few studies that are available, blacks have a modest but significantly higher level of plasma testosterone (3-19%). Could this affect athletic performance? We strongly believe so. It would make it easier to accrue skeletal muscle mass. Further, it may aid one’s training by increasing training intensity and recovery ability, translating of course, into better performance.
Based on the available evidence, it is plausible that there are physical differences between the races which cannot be accounted for by environmental influences. Some differences may or may not predispose blacks to excellence in speed events. Mere observation of both male and female sprinters reveals that the overwhelming majority of them have short torsos and relatively long upper and lower extremities. Furthermore, extreme leanness is a hallmark characteristic of elite sprinters. And it is a well known fact, that blacks on average do carry less body fat than whites. Thus, it would make sense that at least with regard to this characteristic, blacks have an advantage.
The difference in fiber type between blacks and whites needs to be repeated and confirmed. However, empirical evidence (i.e. the domination of sprints by blacks) would suggest that blacks may have a predominance of fast-twitch muscle fibers. We would speculate that a certain percentage of fast-twitch fibers is needed (>70% ?) to sprint at the elite level. This could easily be confirmed.
The higher bone density of blacks has intriguing implications. Bone density is directly related to muscle mass. Blacks do on average carry greater appendicular skeletal muscle mass. Certainly by having more skeletal muscle mass, this would confer an athletic advantage in a general sense, in that your force output should be greater (than someone with less skeletal muscle).
Hormonal factors play a role. Higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone would, in our speculation, lead to a higher fat-free mass (especially skeletal muscle and bone) and a lower fat mass.
So is it nature vs. nurture? Well, it really is both. In essence, all athletes are born and made. Modern athletic performance is a function of better training, coaching, nutrition, ergogenic aids (licit or illicit), and heredity.
It’s just too bad that the public stance of many is governed more by political correctness and a fear of being labeled a bigot or racist. The notion that all groups of people are created “equally” is naive and unsupported empirically and scientifically; and only when we can admit that, can we have a truly honest discussion concerning race and athletic performance.
Note: The preceding article was excerpted from the book, “Speed Demons” which is currently a work-in-progress.
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