Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America

By David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

9
"Great Speed but Little Stamina" The Historical Debate over Black Athletic Superiority

Environmental factors have a great deal to do with excellence in sport," wrote Martin Kane, a senior editor for Sports Illustrated, in a 1971 article entitled "An Assessment of Black is Best," and continued, "but so do physical differences and there is an increasing body of scientific opinion which suggests that physical differences in the races might well have enhanced the athletic potential of the Negro in certain sports." The assertion by Kane that black athletic superiority in sport was perhaps due to innate racial characteristics caused a furor among many people not only because it lacked scientific proof but also because it came out during a period of intense interest in black Americans and appeared in one this country's most popular and widely circulated magazines. Kane's comments resulted in a flurry of responses that ranged from outright rejection of the claim that black athletes were innately superior athletically to a grudging acceptance that blacks were much better than their white counterparts in some sports and decidedly inferior in others.1

Martin Kane was hardly the first person to raise the question of black athletic superiority. Since at least the latter part of the nineteenth century, professionals in many fields--coaches, athletes, trainers, cultural anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, physical educators, biologists, medical doctors, and sportscasters--have put forth their own theories regarding racial differences and their possible effects on sport performance. Although certain trends were evident in their comments, and the issue of black athletic superiority had different ramifications for whites and blacks, the weight of the evidence indicates that the differences between participation patterns of black and white athletes are primarily a consequence of different historical experiences that individuals and their particular racial group underwent. Elite championship athletes are blessed with a certain genetic makeup that contributes to

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