In an impressive display of athletic ability and physical endurance two Kenyans, one man and one woman, took first place in the Boston Marathon on April 17. The streets of Boston were crowded with spectators who witnessed Elijah Lagat and Catherine Ndereba victoriously cross the finish line of the 26-mile race, which took them roughly two-and-a-half hours.
In the past few years, people from the small, densely populated, East African country have dominated the Boston Marathon and other races around the world. Why are the runners of Kenya so successful?
In Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It, published in January, author Jon Entine attempts to answer this and many other questions about the success of athletes with African ancestry.
Entine is an award-winning producer, formerly with NBC and ABC, and is not afraid to tackle sensitive topics. He and Tom Brokaw took on part of this subject in a controversial 1989 NBC special entitled Black Athletes: Fact or Fiction. Entire, who now writes for various publications, gives an in-depth analysis of the question of black athletic superiority. In a compelling work that highlights major scientific research and racially pertinent historical events, Taboo is thoughtfully analytical.
Is the success of black athletes dictated by genes, and are there cultural factors as well? Entire believes that African Americans, because of their ancestry, have genetic traits that enable them to excel at certain sports.
"Are race genetics significant components of the stunning and undeniable dominance of black athletes?" he asks. "Or is this notion nothing but white voodoo designed to banish blacks to the modern plantation-the track, the basketball court, and the football field-- while whites control the boardrooms?"
It's true that black dominance in sports is strikingly limited to participation as athletes. Rarely do African Americans own or manage sports franchises. But they dominate more and more on the playing field. Fewer and fewer white athletes excel at the top professional levels of basketball, football and baseball.
Entire, who is white, writes: "Check the NBA statistics: not one white player has finished among the top scorers or rebounders in recent years. White running backs, cornerbacks, or wide receivers in the NFL? Count them on one hand."
The book surveys the history of black athletes in America but blends its focus into related scientific research in genetics and biology. Entire presents a range of research about the genetic differences among racial groups and explains in depth the breakdown of world populations.
He pointedly discusses the historic plight of the African-American athlete. He reviews the long struggle of integrating sports. The treatment of black athletes forced to play on segregated teams was deplorable. …