A few months ago I’m standing and talking with one of the other parents on my son’s soccer team. He and I have known each other for quite a while now and have a mutual respect for one another. So, when the following conversation happened I was a little surprised. It went like this.
Him: “Man, your son is super-fast. I thought my kids were fast, but your son has cheetah speed. Were you fast when you were a kid?”
Me: “Yes, I was very fast at their age, faster than most.”
Him: “Can I ask you a question?”
Me: “Ssssuuurrre….” (Spider senses started to tingle).
Him: “My sons are the fastest kids on their track team, but when we went over to (insert name of all black high school in an all-black neighborhood) those kids made my sons look so slow.”
Me: “So your question is?”
Him: “Do black kids have an extra leg muscle back there or something?”
Welcome to no wiggle room Wednesday. Today’s topic is: Are black athletes inherently faster than white athletes?
It is well documented that slave owners, Thomas Jefferson being one of them, practiced what is known as selective breeding. Because slaves were looked at as a valuable financial asset (they were the second largest cash asset in the southern states), they were treated like cattle and bred for certain desirable characteristics that could be passed onto their children.
To do the type of back breaking labor that most slaves had to do, a wispy looking runway model type with soft hands and small, lady-like ankles would not do. You wanted muscle, strength, shoulders the width of a boxcar, a back as strong as a train of oxen. In other words you didn’t want a Michael Jackson, you wanted a Bo Jackson.
Often a strong male was forced to impregnate an equally strong female. The end result was baby Hercules. And, because institutionalized slavery lasted in this country for over 200 years, and forced segregation lasted another 102 years (laws that made intermarriage between black and white illegal were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967) the gene pool remained small and became more defined.
In other words, there was a bunch of baby Hercules.
Nobody wants to talk about this in our overly politicized society, but the fact of the matter is this: professional athletics in this country is the unintended beneficiary of the darkest moment in our American history.
Of course the white athlete has his place in history. I would argue, however, that had there not been forced segregation in all professional athletics black athletes would’ve been equally dominant in football before Fritz Pollard in 1919, in basketball before Church Cooper in 1950, and in baseball far earlier than Jackie Robinson. It can be argued that black boxer Jack Johnson would’ve won the world heavyweight championship had James Jeffries, who was white, not refused to face him in as early as 1900.
Not all black people were physical specimens of epic proportion. We can’t all run like cheetahs or dunk the basketball or outrun defenders or hit the baseball a country mile. Some of us missed that portion of the genetic gravy train. Still, there are enough that would give the casual outside observer the impression that we’re all physical wunderkinds, that we all have an extra leg muscle hidden away somewhere.
Sadly, that’s simply not the case.
Fast forward back to my conversation:
Me: “No, last I checked there was no extra muscle back there. I think it’s because we’re used to being chased.”
Him: (awkward silence)
Me: “Just kidding.” (I couldn’t resist it)