In 1997, Sports Illustrated asked “What Ever Happened To The White Athlete?”
Unsure of his place in a sports world dominated by blacks who are hungrier, harder-working and perhaps physiologically superior, the young white male is dropping out of the athletic mainstream to pursue success elsewhere
Read the whole thing. Some excerpts and comments below.
What do you do for a living?” Each time Kevin Little hears the question, he suffers a small crisis. He would love to say straight out, “I run fast. I am a sprinter.” But Little is tired of facing disbelief, tired of the skeptical sputter that always follows such a statement. So he often just mentions his part-time job for U.S. West and moves on. Why bother?
“People do not understand,” Little says. “They look at me like, But you’re white.”
Little is one of the fastest men in the world. His winning time of 20.40 seconds at the world championships in Paris last March tied the American indoor record in the 200 meters. That victory—over a field that lacked world-record holder Michael Johnson but included 1997 outdoor world champ Ato Boldon—made him the first white American since 1956 to win a major international sprint title. At 29, Little is in his prime, but the confidence he displays took too long to earn. Thai’s because, aside from suffering the usual self-doubts, he matured in an age when the white sprinter is about as common as the horse and buggy.
Have any white done as well as Little in international sprinting in the last 13 years? Not that I am aware of. (Pointers welcome.)
The white athlete is getting out. The white athlete—and here we speak of the young men in team sports who ruled the American athletic scene for much of the century—doesn’t want to play anymore. Distracted by other leisure-time pursuits and discouraged by the success of black athletes, who have come to dominate sports in spectacular fashion, the white athlete is now less interested in playing certain mainstream games, most notably basketball and football, than are his black counterparts. He is increasingly drawn to sports that in the U.S. are played primarily by whites, such as soccer, or to alternative athletic pursuits that are overwhelmingly white, such as mountain biking or rock climbing.
This seems wrong, both as a matter of historical fact and as a description of current events. There is huge white participation in sports, including team sports. The young (white) male athletes in my normal suburban town play organized sports all year round. They would do anything to make the elite travel teams in basketball, to be a starter in high school football, to get a college scholarship in baseball. To the extent that the racial balance changes as you move up the competitive ladder, it has nothing to do with a lack of white desire.
What goes on in your town?
The New York Giants’ Jason Sehorn, the only white starting at cornerback in the NFL, runs a 4.4 40 and led his team with five interceptions last season.
There hasn’t been a white starting cornerback since Sehorn. When will there be another? If you believe that, at the elite level, certain athletic-related traits are correlated with race, you would believe that it might be decades before a white cornerback starts for most of an NFL season. If you think that this is more cultural than genetic, you would bet the other way. How would GNXP readers bet?
“I’m told by lots of coaches that you can’t get white kids to go out for basketball teams in urban areas,” says Richard Lapchick, head of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Boston’s Northeastern University. “If you’re fielding a team in Boston, the white kids just aren’t going to go out, whether they can make the team or not. I hear that around the country, too.”
I don’t believe it. Also, Lapchick is a charlatan who refuses to release the underlying data for his studies. (I tried to get it.) But, he tells a story that the US media/people want to hear, so he gets plenty of grant money and exposure.
All of which leads to a question that’s often at the heart of the discussion of race and achievement: Does one group outperform another because of innate ability or outside influences? Is it nature or nurture (page 52)? Cespedes chimes in with those who argue that, in this case, economic forces are responsible—that black males, like some Italians and Irish in the first half of the century, are using sports as a way to a better life. SI’s poll found that young African-American males see sports as a rare opportunity for advancement: Some 51% of them agreed that blacks “care more about sports because sports are one of the few ways in America that blacks can make a lot of money,” and by almost a 3-to-1 margin over whites they said that one of the most important reasons to play is “If I am successful at sports, I can make a lot of money.”
But many people find it hard to believe that economic incentives alone account for black athletic dominance. These observers offer a simple theory: Blacks dominate sports because they are faster, quicker, better. “If you want a gauge, go to the track meets,” says Bowden. “Who’s winning all those track meets?” Certainly there is a chuckling acceptance, among both blacks and whites, of the inability of whites to leap high and run fast. It’s not that whites won’t play anymore, the thinking goes: It’s that they can’t.
Though open discussion of inherent black athletic superiority remains taboo, few deem it offensive to joke about “white man’s disease” or to make a movie called White Men Can’t Jump.
One way to settle the dispute would be to make some competing forecasts. Consider the future of the European soccer leagues. There is lots of money and lots of competition. So, if it is true that black athletes have an advantage in soccer (and certainly speed is the single most important talent for soccer), you would expect these leagues to become much blacker over time, especially via an influx of players from Africa. That has happened to some extent already. If you believe in HBD, you would expect starting players to be of majority African descent in the next decade or so. Would anyone take the other side of that bet?