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« Carol Dweck on our focus on talent | Main | The Stress Spectrum »

July 10, 2008

Comments

josh

Bryan,

Excellent post, and very interesting topic to broach in sports. I remember a significant controversy about 10 years ago, when Sports Illustrated ran a cover story about the dominance of black athletes and tried to figure out the rationale why. Obviously, those incensed by the article claimed theories of radical Darwinism, phrenology, eugenics, and blatant racism, however, from what I recall the article tried to build a more empirical case, which I believe was based largely from the biological record sourced here

http://books.google.com/books?id=5eU9AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=black+athletes+AND+longer+calf+bones&source=web&ots=eUpeiVAK2s&sig=6VhKRWbedgKlAfYWCcMiIZ8zf74&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

about how black athletes had different lower body structures, as well as differences in their fast twitch muscle (red fiber) fiber, and their tendons. Regardless, it does raise an interesting point, one I believe you were alluding to, which you referred to as "sink or swim". I suppose you could look at it also through the lenses of nature vs. nurture as well.

Are these particular athletes you allude to in certain examples better because they are a product of their environment (i.e. Kenya Runners with few substitutes) or because naturally, they have evolved into more highly adapted beings (much like the Sherpa people of Tibet with much larger volumetric lung capacity and larger cranial structure for better oxygen flow, etc) who can summit Mt. Everest?

If you told the top golfers in the world 30 years ago that the best golfer in the world would be black, I have a feeling that sand wedge might be lodged somewhere other than the caddy bag. Baseball offers another interesting parallel. Traditionally a white athlete dominated sport, there was a huge influx of black players in the late 80s, some even say the sport was being overrun. However if you looked at the current climate today, Latin American players dominate the game, and blacks have become a diminishing class. Is this because they are biologically predisposed to sink or swim? I would argue no. Certainly a lack of alternatives plays a huge role, however there also seems to be a more capitalist structure at work behind the scenes. The fastest growth of developmental farm league systems are in Latin America, and not urban USA, creating a larger pool of applicants to choose from, as well as a strong monetary incentive to pursue these goals. In fact, of the commonly agreed upon top 50 players in baseball, 20 are from the same HOMETOWN! Finally, one only needs to look at the rise of China - not just in terms of purchasing power, political importance, or inflation exportation- but BASKETBALL to see how environment and mindset have become a more critical factor than racial superiority or genetics.

At the end of the day I am of the belief that incentives and cultural predispositions play a much larger role in sports than biology, especially when you look at the marginal differences between top athletes across racial classes. The athlete of the future will not be the genetically engineered Ivan Drago, or the Darwinist bred lineage of super athletes that I am sure Andre Agassi and Stefi Graff hope to produce, it will be the one who devotes their essence to being the best at whatever they are passionate about, and surely the racial overtones and social commentary will be the second most talk about point, right behind how many world records they think they will set.

Great post, keep it up.

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