Masters track: contradicting black supremacy in sprints?
Rick Reilly’s column in the current issue of Sports Illustrated (with a cover depicting long-haired Steelers safety Troy Polamalu) revisits an issue that got an exhaustive exegesis four years ago: Are blacks naturally faster than whites? A book by Jon Entine called “Taboo” provided plenty of scientific evidence for the belief that blacks (actually descendants of West Africans) are just plain faster.
Reilly wrote a hoot of a piece that began:
“Let me ask you a question. If I said, ‘The sky is blue, water is wet and moose don’t fit easily into coin slots,’ would you call for my dismissal? Well, then, why did Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry get pure hell when he explained a bad loss to TCU by saying, ‘[They] had a lot more Afro-American players than we did, and they ran faster than we did…. It’s very obvious to me [black players] run extremely well’?”
The funny part was the collection of bogus letters Reilly concocted as replies to his column defending DeBerry.
“Hey, Rick. I’m enclosing a razor blade. Do the right thing.”
–Spike Lee, Brooklyn
“Bravo! It’s time somebody cut through the tyranny of ultrasensitive PC freaks and told the simple truth. Thank you, Rick Reilly!”
–John Rocker, Atlanta
I can buy the empirical evidence of West African dominance in open sprints (and East African dominance in distance-running), but the blacks-are-best theory falls apart in the older age groups, lending credence to those who say cultural factors have a big part to play in which race is tops at short races.
Here’s the deal:
Up until about age 54, the vast majority of single-age record holders in the men’s 100 are black. Starting at age 54 — with Olympian and Masters Hall of Famer Thane Baker – the vast majority are white. (Usually by the name Payton Jordan.) Same for the 200: With Britain’s Stephen Peters leading the way, most post-50 record-holders are white. Think Stephen Robbins, too.
In the women’s sprints, you have Jamaican-born
So what gives?
It could be the demographics of masters track — many more whites compete into the upper age groups than blacks (the leisure sport of the white retired class?). Or it could be that older whites have greater access to health care than blacks. I’m open to suggestions.
But I agree with Reilly and Entine on one thing: It’s OK (not racist) to raise such issues. Entine’s book (which I read five years ago) does a wonderful job of chronicling the history of racial stereotypes in sports — even recalling how, in the 1930s, Jews were thought better at basketball because of their crafty ability to plot moves on the court. (Entine is Jewish, BTW.)
Bottom line: Masters track may not negate the evidence for West African supremacy in Olympic sprinting, but it calls into question whether racial “truths” hold for the entire age spectrum of track and field athletes.
We certainly know this: With age, we grow colorblind. The older we get, the happier we are just to have someone — of any race — to run against.