Amy Bass in Salon:
In 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder (in)famously stated that the prowess of African-American football players could be traced to slavery, saying “the black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way … [They] jump higher and run faster.” The reaction to such obviously racist remarks was fast and furious: Amid the uproar, CBS Sports fired him. So when Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson predicted this month that African-American and West Indian track athletes would dominate the London Olympics because of the genes of their slave ancestors, I paid little attention, thinking there was no way this could become a viable conversation yet again. “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,” Johnson told the Daily Mail. “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me –- I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”
As a historian, what I find to be stunning about what he said is the claim that the supremacy of black athletes in track had never “been discussed openly before.” Actually, with his words, Johnson plunged himself into a century-old debate that seems to rear its (rather ugly) head every four years, just in time for the opening of sport’s largest global stage. Johnson supported his theory with the example of the men’s 100m final at the Beijing Olympics: Three of the eight finalists came from Jamaica, including record-breaking winner Usain Bolt, and two from Trinidad; African-Americans Walter Dix and Doc Patton and Dutch sprinter Churandy Martina, who hails from Curacao, rounded out the line.
Read the rest here.