The Words Donít Match the Pictures:
Why the Polite Lies We Tell about Race and Sex Are
Undermined by What We See on ESPN

by Steve Sailer
National Review OnlinePost
8/27/1997

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This was the introductory chapter to a book I proposed writing in 1996 on race and sports. But I fell sick and by the time I recovered, I had learned that Jon Entine was quite far along with his book on race and sports, Taboo. So, I gave up my book proposal and helped Jon out some with his book. (Taboo turned out well, so that was the right decision.)

 

Gentlemen, letís face it: youíre probably going to devote somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 hours out of your life to sports: to playing sports, talking sports, reading sports, thinking sports, and mostly just sitting around watching sports.

If you give only 20 minutes a day (and, of course, 30 on weekends) to sports, thatís still a solid year out of your threescore and 10. But say youíre a fairly normal sports-addled individual devoting four or five hours on Saturdays and Sundays and two hours on workdays to sports. (Thatís not counting the playoffs, when you get serious.) Thatís 1,000 hours per year. Over your average American male lifespan, youíll end up giving seven to nine years to the lure of athletics. Believe me, thatís a lot more time than youíll devote to the care of your children, or the care of your immortal soul, or your duties to your country, or your education, or your Relationship, or just plain sex, or even eating. Only sleep and, maybe, work will consume more of your life.

So, what have you gotten for this extravagant expenditure of time? (The women in your life may have asked you this already.) There are of course the obvious aerobic benefits of sports: e.g., climbing in and out of your golf cart, searching under the cushions for your channel changer, etcetera etcetera.

 

What Iíd like to propose is a surprisingly novel answer. Beyond all those other undoubtedly wonderful reasons, youíve actually learned from sports a remarkable amount of raw data about human nature. You exposed yourself to a huge number of facts

 

        about how people excel and how they fail

        about how they best compete against each other and how they best cooperate together

        about how blacks differ from whites, and how whites differ from Asians, and about all the ways that everybody is really the same

        and about how people of all races can all get along

        and about what masculinity is and isnít.

 

Your body of sports knowledge is enormously relevant to the most controversial social issues of the 1990ís, all those bitter questions revolving around race and sex and age, discrimination and quotas, gender gaps and gays in the military.

 

This book points out those widespread patterns in human nature that anybody who wants to think in a hard-headed manner about whatís best for society must take into account. This book might (or might not) make you a better citizen. It may well help you go through life less often blindsided by unpleasant surprises. But it will certainly make you a better debater, especially when you are arguing with that arrogant sister-in-law of yours. After all, youíve already memorized 10 megabytes of sports trivia, and she hasnít ... so isnít it time for you to put it to use?

 

Why are sports such a good source of knowledge about the human animal?

 

        The statistics, the millions and gazillions of numbers. Nothing else in human experience is so voluminously quantified.

 

        In an intensely unfair world, sports offer just about the most level playing field weíve got, the closest approach to a real world laboratory. For example, few things symbolize poverty and just-plain-getting-a-raw-deal-in-life as abjectly as a barefoot Ethiopian. Yet, way back at the 1960 Olympics, a barefoot Ethiopian named Abebe Bikila astonished the world by running away from his wealthier, more privileged rivals to win the marathon. Since then, East African men, whether from decently-ruled countries like Kenya or from hell-holes like Ethiopia and Burundi, have increasingly dominated long distance running, showing us new feats that we hadnít known human beings were capable of.

 

But, then, if there is so much of pressing importance to be learned from athletics, why hasnít anybody before attempted to do this systematically? Good question. I think there may be three answers:

 

        First, thereís been a seldom challenged assumption that sports are just fun and games, with no connection to the serious business of Real Life. For example, a common topic for journalists in this decade has been the miserable relations between blacks and whites on Americaís more elite college campuses. As has been repeatedly noted, the only integrated lunch tables at many colleges belong to the varsity jocks. The pundits then typically plunge into deepthink explorations of the cause: Is it white racism? Black nationalism? And what are the cures: More affirmative action? Or less? Likewise, baffled college presidents hire expensive consultants to come onto campus and lecture them on diversity sensitivity. Oddly enough, after noting that the blacks and whites on the basketball team get along pretty well at lunch, almost none of those brilliant writers and pricey consultants has continued on to ask the natural next question: what are the differences between the jocks and the rest of the student body? And college administrators never seem to think to ask their own football and basketball coaches -- who happen to be their own highest paid, most publicized employees -- how they get black and white students to strive together.

 

        Second, we Americans have long preferred moralism over realism. For example, almost all discussions of homosexuals in the mainstream media are couched as ďGays: Sinners Against God or Victims of Society?Ē Whether depicting homosexuals as perverts in the past or victims in the present, the press has always found it less mentally tiring to preach whatever morality is fashionable than to try to understand reality. In contrast, before expounding on what other people should do and think, the realist might first try to answer some nagging questions that donít seem to fit into either the Right or the Leftís moralistic framework for thinking about homosexuals.

 

      For example, when you visit a park in the trendy part of your city on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, why do you find the lesbians furiously competing at softball, while the gay men sunbathe, untroubled by any urge to hit a ball with a stick? Or, in a small town with only one bar for homosexuals, why are the lesbians shooting pool while the gay men dance? Why has AIDS decimated male figure skaters, while leaving pro golfers virtually untouched? Why has the percentage of lesbians on the Ladies Professional Golf tour been estimated by a lesbian-feminist sportswriter at 30%, while the number of gay men who are golf nuts is practically zero? And does that having anything to do with why golfers wear such appalling pants?

 

      These may seem like trivial concerns, but if you ask enough questions, and search hard enough for honest answers, certain patterns emerge that offer surprising perspectives on a host of social, legal, and political issues. For example, black men rule the sports like football, basketball, and heavyweight boxing that are most demanding of strength, power, and aggression -- in other words, the most masculine sports. In contrast, Asian women excel at sports like figure skating, gymnastics, and diving that emphasize grace and beauty -- the most feminine sports. Intriguingly, this identical pattern is seen in interracial marriage. According to the 1990 Census, black men are 2.5 times more likely to be married to whites than black women, while Asian women are 2.5 times more likely to be married to whites than Asian men. And the small number of black-Asian marriages are overwhelmingly black husband-Asian wife. Asian husband-black wife couples are virtually unknown. Why? Well, opposites attract and some types of interracial couples tend to be more opposite than others. This would appear to offer an important insight into why African-Americans and Asian-Americans tend to follow radically different lifestyles.

 

        Finally, many people in positions of power in the media simply refuse to let certain questions about sports be aired because they already know what the only reasonable answers are. The most forbidden involve racial differences. For example, in the last four Olympics all 32 finalists in the menís 100 meters, the race to decide The Fastest Man on Earth, have been black men of West African descent. Since people of West African origin make up roughly 8% of the worldís population, the chance of this happening purely by luck is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000001%. As the Olympic running races have become a more equal opportunity competition, the results have become more segregated. Why?

The conventional explanation is that discrimination keeps blacks out of more desirable professions, forcing them into athletics, where they succeed only because fear of falling back into poverty makes them train desperately hard. Yet, consider running. In America whites and Mexican-Americans dominate the distance events, which require endless roadwork. In contrast, African-Americans monopolize the sprints, which call for the shortest work-week of any major sport. For example, while preparing to win four gold medals in the Los Angeles Olympics, Carl Lewis worked out an average of eight hours per week (not per day, but per week). Nor does poverty explain the career of the current Worldís Fastest Man, Donovan Bailey, who didnít get serious about sprinting until heíd made so much money as a stockbroker that heíd already bought himself a house and a Porsche -- for cash.

 

Elite writers and editors believe itís best to block average sports fans from noticing black domination because it threatens the orthodoxy that all groups must be equal in all ways. Itís best to keep us oblivious to the obvious. As well-intentioned as this journalistic cover-up may be, it suffers one flaw: it doesnít work. Fans donít have to read about black superiority, they see it for themselves round the clock on ESPN, and discuss it endlessly in every sports bar in America.

 

Sadly, barroom blather has its limits for improving our understanding of race. And thatís the real problem with trying to airbrush this fascinating topic out of the press. The taboo certainly doesnít slow down those whites who merely want to believe that since blacks are more athletic, then whites must be more intelligent, end of story. The good news is that thereís more to the story. The bad news is itís not getting heard.

 

Not only do black sports triumphs often begin with physical advantages over other races, they also often stem in part from what appear to be common black mental superiorities over whites and Asians in improvisational decision-making (e.g., think of Magic Johnson directing a fast break or Miles Davis leading a quintet). Unfortunately, the current dogma of absolute equality puts blacks in a no win position: any evidence of any innate racial disparity threatens to bring down the current theory, but blacks are not allowed to cite the abundant evidence for black superiority in many skills. When morality conflicts with the facts, you can either close your eyes -- for awhile -- to the facts, or you can try to find a better, more useful morality. Later in the book Iíll suggest a new, pragmatic, and optimistic way to reconcile ourselves to the reality of ethnic differences.

 

While researching this book, I was surprised to discover that there is an enormous genre of tomes bearing titles like Sports, Race, and Gender. College professors write scores of these books each years (and dozens of people buy them). These tomes judge the reality of sports by the theories of academia and find -- youíll be shocked, shocked to learn this -- that sports fail to live up to the expectations of multicultural sensitivity.

 

For example, today far more African-American major league baseball players are likely to be outfielders than catchers. This is cited as proof of a nefarious plot by management to ďracially stackĒ blacks. A few simple questions might occur, however, to anybody who is not a professional social scientist:

 

        Why would the white male power structure reserve for itself the really fun job of crouching for hours, getting dinged by foul tips, and flattened by baserunners?

        Speaking of the ďtools of ignorance,Ē isnít it a clichť of Little League movies like The Bad News Bears that itís always the poor fat kid who gets stuck with catching?

        Why would teams want to lose games by misusing their players?

        Since playing the outfield is mostly running down flyballs, and catching is mostly squatting, maybe blacks play the outfield more because they tend to be faster?

 

But, thatís just not the point, now is it? We arenít supposed to ask tough questions for which we donít already possess prefabricated answers like Racism! Sexism! Stereotypes!

 

In contrast, this book uses the reality of sports to assess the reigning theories of how the world works. (Short answer: they donít work.) Yet, I try to avoid mere bashing of the politically correct. (But, hey, Iím human, I canít always resist.) In truth, the multiculturalists raise many fascinating issues that the rest of us need to come to grips with. This does not mean, however, that the evidence cited by the multiculturalists actually supports their dogmas. In fact, an in-depth examination generally leads to insights 180 degrees from their smug premises. Yet, neither will all conservatives be comfortable with some of these new perspectives on human nature.

 

 For example, what about those racial disparities by position in big league baseball? The politically correct are likely to deplore it, and the politically incorrect to ignore it.  But doing some thinking about it raises a new, more interesting issue: Go back far enough into the bad old days and these differences in positions played disappear. In other words, we find, once again, that integration has lead to segregation of roles. For example, during Jackie Robinsonís era (1947-1956), five black Brooklyn Dodgers won the Most Valuable Player or Rookie of the Year awards. Oddly, they each played one of the three positions least frequented by African-Americans today:

 

        Catcher: Roy Campanella

        Pitcher: Don Newcombe, Joe Black

        Utility Infielder: Jackie Robinson, Junior Gilliam

 

And, of course, if you go back to the Negro Leagues, blacks were represented in all the positions in perfect proportion. When blacks werenít allowed to play with whites, they were trained to fill all nine positions. In todayís integrated game, they specialize in positions where their competitive advantages in speed and power are most valuable, and competition from whites and Mexicans is weakest.

 

Of course, once you recognize that in sports desegregation often leads to racial specialization in jobs, youíll also notice it elsewhere. For example, the radical increase in the diversity of American society in recent decades due to integration and immigration appears to have had the unintended consequence of nearly obliterating the African-American shopkeeper class. Beyond that, it leads to a new perspective on affirmative action. Are quotas necessary to prevent resegregation? Or is specialization the key to economic progress, and all quotas do is lure blacks into fields where they donít possess comparative advantages over whites?

 

In summary, this is a serious book about serious issues. That doesnít mean it has to take itself seriously. Enjoy.

Steve Sailer (www.iSteve.com) is president of the Human Biodiversity Institute.

 

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