Why are African-American athletes better than white american athletes

Why do African-Americans excell in most sports better than white-americans eg.in basketball,American Football and Athletics?

I don’t think anyone knows the exact answer, but there are a couple theories. One is that since black people in America are mostly decended from slaves, and slaves were picked for their strength, they are simply more likely to inherret athletic genes. Another is that since black people are on average poorer than white folks, they’re more likely to spend their spare time playing outside and doing manual labor instead of watching TV or studying.

My totally uneducated opinion is that it’s probably a combination of those two factors.

[Moderator watch ON]
This question is inevitably going to end up in Great Debates eventually, so I’m just going to save everyone some trouble and move it there now.
[Moderator watch OFF]

For what it’s worth, even if slaves were selected for strength, slavery in America wasn’t in place for long enough for significant evolutionary changes to have taken place. I’ve always heard that it was just a matter of practicing one’s butt off, just like it is for successful athletes of any race.

My theory has always been that blacks do better athletically in warmer tempatures. You don’t see many african americans playing hockey do you?:slight_smile:

I would hypothesis that there are more black(african-american for all of you Pc jerk-offs) athletes because of the social situation most african-americans face in modern day USA. Like others have stated before, most blacks(typing african-american all of the time gets tiring) live in overly-populated areas where an education is not easy to get and where an athletic team usally resides. Look at how many athletes come out of these large cities. Since the black child cannot get a good education, he tries other ways to get ahead in the world. Some misguided youths go the wrong(idiotic) way and join a gang or push drugs. But many of these youths play sports as a way to gain reputation and a way to avoid the gang way. And since the media worships sports and pushes them in the face of every person in any city, most of these youths decide to try out sports.

In conclusion: Society and the Media are responsible.

Let me posit an answer via this question? Why do European-Americans do better in Golf, Gymnastics, Tennis, Hockey, and Horse Riding? Why do Latinos do better in futbol, boxing, and baseball?

In my opinion, it lies on two major and general reasons:

  1. Sports culture: certain ethnic groups for whatever various social reasons have created a sport culture of preference (i.e., Latinos-boxing, futbol, European-Americans-hockey, tennis, and African-Americans-basketball, football)

  2. Economics:

a) Sports is a way for working class folks to move up in society. Basketball, football, soccer, and boxing do provide a way for working class youth to earn a living and even “making it big” in our society. If you look at most boxers, as an example, most came from very low income class backgrounds with very little formal education. Would a youth with a highly educated family and upper income get into the boxing business when he/she has other opportunities? Not likely. Exceptions don’t count, ok?

b) Accesability of sport, able to participate in sport in the least expense to one self and family. Basketball, boxing, and soccer do not require a lot of equipment to become involved in the sport. For basketball you just need some short (which you could get for at least $10), shoes (any $40 shoes will do), and whatever jersey is around. For a practice place you can use any hoop arond the neighborhood or take part in high school Not the same thing with tennis or hockey. With tennis, the rackets are pretty expensive ($100 the cheap ones), have to pay membership fees to enter the good courts, pay instructor to teach the fine points of the game, and pay to enter tournaments.

c) Industry structure for that sport assists working class/underpriviliged athlete in participating in sport. Football could be expensive for working class kids, except that, as an example here in Texas, the whole Football structure is set up since elementary school and pee-wee football. If you got the skills and willingness, school WILL assist all the way to college and NFL will do the rest. Tennis is also accessible, but it’s harder to get involved in non-school tournaments.

I read somewhere (In either Discover Magazine or Scientific American) that black people have more blood vessels in their muscle tissue. Because of this, they have greater physical endurance and are therefore better athletes. At least one book has been written on this topic; I can’t remember the author or title, though.

Asmodean: The Edmonton Oilers NHL team now has five black players. Perhaps hockey is simply early in the white-to-black predominace transition.

It wouldn’t have to be. You’d start off with a group selected for strength and health. Then the demands of the labour (or for that matter just the trip over here) would weed out the weaker people (weed out. what a heartless way to put it! but you get my point). So you would have a really strong pool of genes from the very beginning.


So that’s why basketball players’s shorts hang so funny!

To elaborate on xicanorex’s statements about econonics, hockey is one of the most expensive sports to participate in. The equipment itself is expensive, and you need an ice rink! If you live in Canada or other northern climes, you can get ice rather easily in winter months, it’s not so easy to play hockey on the pond in your backyard if you live in the South.

There is a very good book on the subject of black athletes and the history of sport, “Darwin’s Athletes” by John Hoberman. The title is somewhat misleading, because the author’s intent is actually to attack the idea that black athletes have any sort of evolutionary advantage over other athletes. I don’t agree with all the conclusions he draws, but it was an excellent read and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of sport in America, or the black experience in America.

Chronos, I think you’re absolutely correct in your statement that the time period of black slavery was far too short to produce any evolutionary changes. However, I think friedo’s point was speaking to a slightly different issue, that slavery imposed a somewhat artifical selection process on a certain population.

Here’s something else to throw into the mix … the theory that white America, for many years, embraced the idea of black superiority in athletics because it validated the idea that black people were naturally more physical, and inversely, supported the idea that whites were more intellectually skilled. Black youths were then encouraged by mainstream culture to take advantage of their perceived “natural” abilities, rather than waste their time trying to compete in more intellectual pursuits.

So The answer seems to be: Just what I said. Can you guys put out an original idea? It doesn’t matter how long your other posts were. You said what I said. Let’s see some different opinions.

  1. Uh, those were original ideas in the context that I, at leat, type my post at the same time you did, but giving more detail and w/o knowing your response. Also, delphica added more information on the similar stance we seemed to have taken. Anyway, your post wasn’t that original in the sense that others have made similar p.o.v. regarding this question outside this media. I myself take a marxian view of this point so therefore is totally original outside this arena of debate.

  2. I think there are different pov being written here. One taking a stance that it’s social-economic and the other stating that it’s evolutionary/genetic.


I meant to say “is not totally original outside this arena of debate.”


Greetings, and welcome to the SDMB. Glad you feel comfortable enough already to criticize other posters for agreeing with you. :rolleyes:

That being said, I notice two different theories being put forth here. As you only wrote about one of those theories, I humbly suggest that at least a second “original idea” has been posted here. I would also submit that some of the posts that agree with you differ from your theory in some way, and are therefore useful to the debate.

Thank you for playing, and have a nice say.

My understanding from considerable reading on antebellum America, the institutition of slavery, and African history is that the criteria by which West Africans were chosen for enslavement weren’t predicated so much on their possessing outstanding physiological characteristics so much as on the weaker-looking specimens being automatically rejected from consideration. In other words, the deciding factor was often the slaves presumed marketability. S/he had to look saleable, and that meant convincing slave buyers in America that the captive in question could work long, hard days under a brutal sun without falling ill. When one factors in the forced breeding of physically endowed female and male slaves for two centuries in America, one cannot help but conclude that this is eugenics. The male and female slaves forced into this arrangement were usually big-boned, strong, and robust, which would predipose the birth of similarly endowed offspring. (One can also surmise that, of the untold thousands of slaves who died during the Middle Passage, the odds would favor the stronger, more robust specimens.) Multiplied over many generations and thousands of family lines, and it isn’t surprising that their is a difference in athletic performance.

I recently heard an Olympics strength coach say that, on average, African American’s have a higher concentration of fast-twitch muscles compared to Caucasians, and this genetic endowment is absolutely critical in being successful in the speed/jumping sports: football, track & field (sprinting), and basketball. (Some whites, of course, also have high concentrations.)

Though the topic hurts our delicate ears, the fact is that some races/ethnic lines are endowed with certain small genetic advantages and disadvantages–deviations that appear slight on paper, yet prove decisive in sports competition. For instance, East and Northern Africans, due to their painfully slight (yet efficient) builds and extensive training at high altitude, make for outstanding distance runners. On the other hand, cultural considerations (i.e., national interest) may explain the dominance of, say, Scandinavian teams in the explosive/power field sports: discus, javelin, shot, and hammer. And money and geographical considerations explain why some excel in hockey or polo or tennis.

Another observation: the role models of many young African Americans are sports stars, and the allure of big bucks and stardom must be compelling.

Hmmm…someone in our senior seminar did his thesis on distance running-the history of it and the like. And there was something he said about bones and density…SOMETHING physical…just good genes, or something like that. Damned if I could remember…there was a book he mentioned…dammit!

I agree with betanoir and tsuna. Regular evolutionary laws don’t really apply to slavery. It’s important to remember that they were artificially selected from the start and then bred just like livestock. If you’ve ever bred animals, you can see the traits you select for become dominant within three or four generations.

That doesn’t explain all of it, of course. You can have the best athletic genes in the world; if you sit around eating Big Macs all day you won’t get into the NBA. That’s why I think the socio-economic factor is important as well.

As was pointed out by delphica, sports like basketball are fairly cheap and easy to play casually, thus making them more likely to be chosen by someone without a lot of money.

Blacks are not overrepresented in American sport. They are actually slightly underrepresented. 10.5% of American professional athletes are black, while 11.8% of Americans are black. You only think that blacks are overrepresented because you’re only looking at a small set of sports. The only sports in which blacks are overrepresented are basketball, football, track and field, baseball, and boxing (although the percentage of blacks in the last two has been dropping recently while the proportion of Hispanics has been rising, so it’s likely that blacks will soon no longer be overrepresented). Look at all the sports where blacks are underrepresented - hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, horse racing, bowling, auto racing, skating, skiing, gymnastics, biking, martial arts, surfing, archery, target shooting, cricket, rugby, fencing, weight-lifting, swimming, wrestling, motorcycle racing, (horse) show-jumping, and any kind of extreme sports. In many of those sports there are almost no blacks. (Yes, I know that a couple of the sports I listed are only amateur sports in the U.S.)

The reason that you notice black athletes more is that they have mostly confined themselves to a small set of sports which happen to be the ones with a few really high-paid athletes. Hispanics have mostly confined themselves to an even smaller set of sports - baseball, boxing, and soccer.

I don’t know that this will answer the original question or not, but it might shed some light on it.

In an attempt to point out that we are not all the same, I will start with some global observations.

  1. World’s Strongest Man competition. This event has become popular in many places in the world. The favorites to win these days are Europeans, every year some American guys try really hard and end up looking bad. Usually the European who lifts the winning prize is from Northern Europe I think. I start with this competition as it is one of more notable tests of raw strength, endurance and speed. Looking at recent results, you gotta notice that Europeans dominate. Plenty of good showings from around the world, and even a big white guy from South Africa has shown consistenly well over time. Now it seems to me that the rugged conditions of northern Europe have produced the best people for this type of competition.

  2. Marathon. Give me a Kenyan anyday. Already explained.

  3. Sprinter. Give me an African American. Thoughts on the subject to follow later.

  4. Best pool of all around atheltic talent. Jamaica. See bobsled team, check for number of world class atheletes of all types and consider the population of the island. If you can think of a place to find better athletic talent of all types, let me know, I want to ponder on it.

Okay, nothing earth shattering so far, just making a point that needed to be made and that some folks might not like. I don’t want to offend anybody, but lets face it, people like to think “we are all the same” when in fact it should read “we are all basically the same”. No need to talk about intelligence since we got enough smart people from all around the world.
Things that confuse me.

Hybrid Vigor. Anybody that knows a thing about thoroughbred horse breeding might have already thought of this. In some ways I would think this would be the ultimate athletic advantage, however it doesn’t seem to be a reliable factor. You could look at the American (Dan or Dave?) decathelete and say, yes this is the answer. Then you look at Jamaica and say no, this isn’t the answer. I am admittedly confused. What I think should make sense doesn’t make sense to me, of course people aren’t horses either.

Motivation. What effect does motivation have in the big picture. Your hero is a marathon runner in Kenya, sure doesn’t hurt. You have lots of choices in America, your young, you discover that somehow at age 6 you can compete against your peers in a 100 yard dash and win running backwards, somebody says something about Micheal Johnson, he seems pretty cool, you want to be like him, sure doesn’t hurt. How much it helps is another thing entirely.
Opinions from a sports fan who is far from a great athlete or an expert on any of these subjects.

The African American athelete is impressive. The unnatural selection in the slavery days had to help. Between picking the best looking workers, having to survive a terrible ocean crossing, and some of the best of the survivors (I will make no claims about how common this habit was, but it existed) being forced to have offspring together had to produce some positive effects. I think the natural abilities of the original slaves were enhanced not only by the above processes, but also possibly by the hybrid vigor effect over the years.

Now on to economics. We do have many places in America where a kid can soon come to realize his best chance at being successful and getting out of a bad situation is via the sports hero route. While this is sad and most don’t make it, such a driving motivation does help. To combine that with a wide variety of sports heros to pick from and some flexibility to pursue the line of sports which best fit your body and you practically have a recipe.

Body proportions. I have heard many say the African American has a slighly longer femur length in proportion to overall leg length. This is a touchy subject, and I mention it because it might, MIGHT be a big factor. I don’t really have an opinion on it, but I can say that of all the people I have ever seen in my 26 years, the person who had the longest femur in comparision to total leg length was an African American, I went to high schol with him, nice guy. Total speculation here, but if African Americans have a slightly longer femur and corresponding leg muscles than white Americans of the same height, it could be helpful. One of my black friends in college believed this, the topic came up while we were politely discussing the abilities of African Americans to swim (bone density issues). Since I brought it up, it should probably also be stated that if blacks have a slightly higher bone density than whites this could be a major advantage in training. Train harder, get stronger faster, dominate that white guy who couldn’t train as hard because he would get hurt. White guy get tired of losing and decides to become an extreme athelete and break bones for fun by falling off a skateboard ramp.

Please don’t burn me at the stake for being brave enough to venture into a GD. Just some thoughts and opinions from a white guy that grew up poor in an area with far more black people than white people. Please don’t call me a racist, I know what those are, I have walked into a fast food restaurant in Alabama and sat down to enjoy a meal with 3 friends, one black, one Japanese and one Pakistani, everybody looked at me like I had came into town with the circus.

The best athlete the world has ever produced was Jim Thorpe, American Indian. My favorite athlete is Jan-Ove Waldner, but you folks have never heard of him.


The question in the OP has been answered. The OP said:

> Why do African-Americans excell in most sports better
> than white-americans . . .

Go back and read my answer. Blacks don’t excel in most sports more than whites (in the U.S.). They are actually slightly underrepresented overall. Only in a small set of sports are they overrepresented (and only in those in recent decades, for that matter). There’s nothing to be explained.

Some of you are going to say, “So why do blacks in the U.S. excel in certain sports?” Well, if you’re going to answer that, you should also answer the questions, “Why do whites excel in certain sports? Why do Hispanics excel in certain sports? Why do Asians excel in certain sports?” If you’re going to answer that by saying, “It’s genetic,” you need to come up with ways that blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians have all been genetically selected to be better in the sports that they excel in. What good does it do to pick just one of those groups and explain their genetic explanation, when you can’t explain the successes of the other groups? Wouldn’t it be better to come up with a general theory of why all the ethnic groups succeed in the ways they do?

Furthermore, what about the successes of groups by nationality? Why are Latin Americans (and to a smaller extent) Europeans successful in soccer, while North Americans and Asians aren’t? Why did the American Olympic teams (even back when they were mostly white) consistently win the gold medal in basketball? If it were a matter of blacks being better in basketball, why has the Olympic competition gotten almost equal to the U.S. recently, even though our Olympic basketball teams are more black than ever? Why are Canadians better at hockey? How could it be genetic since they are genetically almost the same as a lot of countries that don’t have very good hockey teams? Why do athletically talented young men in working-class Northern England cities tend to overwhelmingly choose soccer to be good at? How could it be genetic, since very closely genetically related young men in other countries don’t tend to chose soccer? I’ve seen a table in which countries of the world are put on a graph according to how many Olympic medals they have won, versus how many people live in the country and how high a living standard the country has. The table showed that nearly all the differences could be accounted for by saying that the higher the population of the country, the higher the number of medals won (since obviously the more people you have, the more competitors you have) and the higher the standard of living, the more medals won (since obviously if you can’t spend money on training if you don’t have the money to spend). One of the few divergences from this rule is that Australians and New Zealanders have won twice as many medals as the rule would predict. How could this be genetic, since they are genetically quite similar to the inhabitants of other countries where the people don’t win more than their share of medals? Wouldn’t a cultural explanation of these facts make more sense than a genetic one?

Don’t you see how suspicious it is when you say, “I chose to explain why this one racial group is better in this small set of sports. I’m not going to try to explain the superiority of other ethnic groups in other sports.” This looks like you’re picking out one small fact that fits in with a theory you have and ignoring other facts that don’t fit in. Furthermore, notice the following: No one ever comes up with an explanation that says, “Group X (which I don’t belong to) excels in sport Y (or in all sports). This is because they are overall superior in all categories, including intelligence.” I’ve never heard a white arguing that blacks were superior in sports, so therefore they are superior in everything, including intelligence. They either are neutral as to whether this has anything to do with intelligence, or they claim that it shows that blacks are less intelligent. On the other hand, when you point out to these same people that whites excel more in certain other sports, they argue, “Oh, that’s because we’re more intelligent, and that’s what’s needed in those sports.” In other words, heads we win and tails you lose.

Until you come up with a genetic theory that explains all the differences in races and nations according to which sports they excel in, I continue to remain suspicious of all genetic explanations. I don’t see that there’s anything that cultural influences can’t explain. You naturally get interested in the sports that your friends and neighbors are interested in. You get interested in the sports where you can afford the equipment and can find someone to practice with and can get to a place to practice. You lose interest in sports where everyone you know tells you, “Why would you want to play that sport? No one from around here plays it.”

Strangely, everything old, out-dated and plain wrong is new again.

May I kindly refer everyone to the following threads in which this very topic has been beaten to death:

First and most recently:
Peace, you are a worthless piece of shit, and a liar to boot.

regarding coherency of the idea of race, starting roughly the third page.

So, what’s the matter with eugenics?

On eugenics and genetics and race.

Aren’t multiracial people superior?

Essentially the same, but you may see some of your not at all new objections addressed.

Athletes and race…a theory

Surprise, exactly the same topic. I assure one and all data, arguments and all kinds of fun things are to be found.

Let me note:
(1) actual scientific literture is cited therein, not half-baked ponderings of sports-journalists and pseudo-scientists claims on racial identifcation of ‘fast twitch muscles’ and other rot.

(2) The issue of supposed “selection” for athleticism has been dealt with already, it is a crock. The time frame is too short and too incoherent and the hypothesis utterly ignores the reality of inter-mingling of populations both during and after slavery – that’s right people of all races making babies across color lines. Such genetic intermingling utterly overwhelms any supposed (and quite unsupportable) suppositions of slavery eugenics.

(3) The non-utility of race as a biological descriptor is discussed in some, possibly mind-numbing detail.

A synopsis of the rather long discussions:

(a) Race as a biological construct is meaningless, deceptive and positively gets in the way of a scientific understanding of human populations
(b) No so-called race (in the white-black frame of reference) has any underlying biological coherency, making assertions and assumptions based on an assumed underlying genetic homogeniety FALSE and WHOLLY UNSCIENTIFIC.
© As such the generalizations bandied about on race, including those above, are largely based on common logical perceptual errors: notably fallacy of composition, selection bias.
(d) Valid units of genetically based schema for understanding and organizing human populations will resolve at much smaller units than the popular myths known as race. Current work in population genetics is working on precisely these questions

For me, the quesiton arises:

Why the hell does this topic keep coming up? Does this never, ever sink in?

(Wendell, you will find much satisfying material from myself, Tomndeb and edwino I believe, among others.)