Are Black People More Athletic Than the Rest of the World?
by Iren Keito on Nov 28, 2021
Primitive wildlife seems to be the rest of the world's first impressions of Africa. The strong struggle with the harsh nature has given the African peoples outstanding advantages.
The muscular body and the graceful dance moves implying intrinsic strength seem to be the natural racial advantage of black Africans. These strong and superior Native African traits have been passed down through generations of present-day Africans. Do these innate abilities make all black people natural athletes?
Let's find out!
The domination participation of black athletes
In the pre-World War II era through the 1970s, the list of athletes who have won medals and honors is almost exclusively white European names. This phenomenon is due to racism and poor economic status as barriers to black participation in athletics. However, in recent years, many Asian and African countries have been able to send athletes to compete. As a result, the distribution of medals in the Olympics has changed markedly.
The clearest division in racial composition can be seen in athletics. For example, in the 100m, 200m, 400m sprint, and cross country, the vast majority of champion athletes are people who grew up or have backgrounds in West African countries.
And not only in the Olympics, the presence of black people is also very high in professional sports in the US. The domination of African American players in various sports is undeniable today. They make up around 12% of the US population yet account for 75% of NBA players, 50% of NFL players, and about 25% of MLB players. What makes this statistic so shocking is that African Americans make up only about 13% of the total US population.
About 40 years ago, when racism was still an issue, black Americans made up only about 10% of all basketball players. Also, in rugby, a few decades ago 100% of the players were white. In contrast, today 70% of the sport's players are black. In Europe, athletes of African descent are flooding professional football clubs in France, England, the Netherlands, Germany, etc. Of course, we should also not forget that Nigeria and Cameron are on the way to becoming two powerhouses in football.
Are these achievements a testament to the genetic superiority of black people as athletes?
Yes and No. There are various factors such as living conditions, socioeconomic and genetic reasons that can explain the rise of black athletes.
Habitats create distinct biological advantages of races
Hundreds of anthropological studies over the past few decades have shown that key characteristics of athletes such as body structure, muscle distribution, endocrine system, lung capacity, ability to use abilities, etc. are related to ability and results in competitions. Based on the physical facts, one can hypothesize that blacks have an advantage over whites in sports.
Africa locates on the Equator with high temperatures and hot sun with many deserts, so people living in Africa are very resistant to extreme temperature conditions. Africa's terrain is mainly highlands, deserts, and tropical forests and relatively little rainfall leads to prolonged drought and poverty. For survival, the body's water content and fat layer are also optimized by tightening the muscle bundles and distributing denser muscle.
On average, sub-Saharan Africans share several physical characteristics: high bone density, low-fat percentage, long legs, small buttocks, and narrow hips. These physiological characteristics give them important advantages in many sports.
On the other hand, East African athletes often have thinner ankles and thinner calves which is suitable for sports that require leg movement. They also live high above sea level, ideal conditions to help improve endurance. Light body but tall, long legs are also advantages of day players in sports such as soccer, running, volleyball, basketball, high jump, etc.
Because blacks have extended limbs, their centers of mass are higher than whites of the same height. A player's capability to maintain and produce motion is affected by the height of his or her center of mass. As a result, a person with a higher center of gravity's feet will strike the ground quicker and with greater resilience than someone with a lower center of gravity's feet. This physical discrepancy offers a black athlete an edge, even when competing against a higher competitor.
Additionally, blacks were strongly restricted from sports leagues in the past
In the past, Africa suffered from widespread poverty and economic, educational, and social underdevelopment. Poverty was the leading cause of severe malnutrition among African children. Malnourished children in Africa exhausted in health, limited their developing ability for years.
This has created an extremely bitter injustice to the future generations of this continent, preventing the development of children and the innovative opportunities of African countries. This is also a huge obstacle for athletes in this region to develop their available potential. Poverty, slavery, illiteracy, living in underdeveloped places with poor conditions are the reasons that have hindered the sporting development of the whole continent and generations to come.
As a result, communities of African descent only make up the majority of top athletes in particular sports. There are many economic and social reasons for this trend. Africa is not as rich as European and American countries, so they have to focus on sports that they can take advantage of at the lowest cost. Athletics and football are two sports that do not require high investment in facilities and are therefore well suited to the economies of poor countries.
Therefore, African Americans are mostly participating in sports such as basketball, football, and running. Besides, these sports all train people for endurance and optimize the muscles in the body, creating conditions to improve the general fitness of athletes compared to other continents. On the other hand, African-rooted people utilize their involvement and ability in sports as a means of achieving success, and that they perceive athletics "as a way out" rather than merely a way of entertainment.
Here We Come Down to The Most Intriguing Part: Innate Gene Factors
Why is the distribution of bone and muscle density difference between Africans and Europeans? The simple answer is genetics. Indeed, the difference in the above characteristics between the peoples of the world cannot be explained simply by differences in living environment, but also in genetic factors.
Based on the distribution of bone density in the population, one can estimate that there are about 70 to 100 genes that affect bone strength. Among those genes, the Vitamin D receptor gene (also known as VDR for short) plays an important role in bone maintenance. According to the research of this writer, up to 70-75% of Africans have this gene; Meanwhile, this rate among Europeans is 60% and Asians only 10%. These facts probably explain why blacks have a heavy skeleton and a relatively thick muscular system.
Some scientists in Australia, while searching for the genetic makeup of muscular dystrophy, found that about 20% of people of Asian and European descent have a gene they call the "wimp gene" (weak gene). This gene prevents the body from producing alpha-actinin-3, a hormone that provides strength in fast-twitch muscles. Blood samples taken from the Zulu tribe of the Bantus ethnic group (West Africa) showed that only 3% carried this "weak gene".
This finding could explain why people of African descent have such a rapid rate of muscle growth. There are some theories that the need for a "speed gene" is increasingly lost because the speed of hunting animals or escaping from enemies to maintain survival is no longer necessary. This also explains why African ancestors living in savannas, grasslands, and jungles preserved this gene better than other races.
In short, are black people more athletic by nature? Absolutely, all the changed characteristics to adapt to the environment over many generations have created natural advantages in sports for African descents.
However, Only Practice Makes Perfect
But even having enough of the contributors doesn't guarantee endurance, because genes only determine about 25% of endurance. As such, exercise is still an important factor - but even more important for blacks than it is for whites. Many experiments show the same result: just by increasing the intensity of the exercise by about 5%, the fitness of black people can increase exponentially by 50%; meanwhile, despite increasing the intensity of training to a maximum of 50%, the fitness in whites increases by only 5%.
It should be added that the degree of difference between athletes is extremely tiny. So small that if an athlete had a body or ability to use muscle fibers more efficiently, the results would be extremely important. A fraction of a minute or even a fraction of a second can determine a gold or silver medal.
Besides, they are also motivated to strive. Achievement can lead to a better living standard and good performance means a better economy. Together with centuries of evolution, these factors have created athletes with extreme endurance. The value of an athlete is calculated by time and ranking. The better the performance, the better the manager and athlete have a basis for asking for an increase in sponsorship.
This may give the impression that black people are born with an advantage over other races in terms of athletic ability, and that one needs to employ dexterity and intellect to outperform athletics skin coloration: black. This is illogical. The success of Black athletes is attributed to intrinsic talent, which minimizes the attention and hard work they have put in. Regardless of ethnicity or intrinsic capabilities, choosing the correct sports with biological superiority and creating the right training environment is critical.
Alright, it's undeniable that the combination of evolution and habit gave black athletes the proper advantages. But are that all enough for black athletes to dominate sports tournaments? Not really. Advantages can become weaknesses if talents become arrogant or stop striving to be better.
Black athletes, in addition to striving to overcome difficulties in the training environment, also face certain prejudices and obstacles. Despite all that, black players still shine in the world sports arena. This is something to be proud of!