I was stunned when I heard that Olympic legend Michael Johnson recently credited a “superior athletic gene” in the descendants of West African slaves as the edge black American and Caribbean sprinters have at the London Games. Stunned not only that he would make such an incredulous comment but also that it would receive any kind of credence from the media.
Well, Michael, we shouldn’t discuss it because it is a stupid hypothesis and plays into the slave master mentality that whites are genetically intelligent while blacks have superior physical capabilities. I thought the issue had been put to rest when Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired in 1988 after 12 years as a CBS football analyst for remarks he made about the physical abilities of black and white athletes. Among other things, Snyder said the black athlete is “bred to be the better athlete because, this goes all the way to the Civil War when … the slave owner would breed his big woman so that he would have a big black kid.”
While the BBC probably won’t fire Johnson for his comments, Johnson should be ashamed for stating, “All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations. Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me – I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”I asked my friend Richard Lapchick, who has addressed racism in sports for most of his life, how he felt about Johnson’s comments.
“Ever since the Nazi Olympics, ‘scientists’ have been trying to prove that there is some physical difference that makes black athletes superior to whites,” Lapchick said. “For them there was always the corollary that ‘blacks might be better physically but whites are more intelligent.’ Seventy-five years after the Berlin Games the names of the “scientists” trying to prove this have changed but the results have been the same: there is no proof that there is something anatomically different in blacks that make them better athletes.”
I am frequently asked if Dominicans are naturally better at baseball than the rest of the world, and my answer is, “Yes, the Dominican Republic produces the best baseball players in the world, but it has nothing to do with race. First, you have weather where you can play baseball all year round. Second, there is a cultural passion for the sport. Third, you have dream merchants constantly selling baseball as the way to success. It is the perfect storm for producing baseball players, but you can’t rule out hard work and determination as well. Great baseball players are made, not born.”