September 19, 2007

The g Factor of Sports

Just as there's a general factor of intelligence, coaches tend to talk as if there is a g factor in sports. In America today, they tend to call it "athleticism."

The way the word is used can be a little surprising: e.g., eye-hand coordination is not considered part of athleticism. Quarterback Michael Vick has "athleticism" but Peyton Manning, despite his superior throwing ability, does not. Cornerbacks have lots of athleticism, but placekickers do not. Centerfielders have athleticism but third basemen do not. Willie May had athleticism, Brooks Robinson was a great fielder. You might recall Brooks Robinson diving flat out over third base to spear a ferocious one-hopper, then scrambling to his feet to fire a throw to first base, but, well, that's just not athleticism.

Breaking it down, it appears that "athleticism" consists of footspeed, leaping ability, agility, ability to improvise unexpectedly (e.g., fake left, go right), ability to react, and hitting ability (in the football sense, not the baseball sense). One reader says "athleticism" is used to mean "lower body springiness."

One interesting question is whether "athleticism" exists as a general factor much like g in IQ. I sometimes wonder if it's not just a euphemism for "black."

Anyway, anyone interested in "multiple athleticisms" vs. "a general factor of athleticism" could take a look at the data from NBA and NFL Draft combines. For example, here are the numbers on the 2007 NBA draft hopefuls on two kinds of leaping ability, bench press, lane agility, and 3/4 court sprint. You might be able to extract something interesting here, although range restriction is severe -- all these guys would beat you 20-2 in a one-on-one game.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


daveg said...

I don't think athleticism is a euphemism for black, although it is heading in that direction.

It is the ability to control yourself and to control and respond to physical environment around you that defines athleticism IMHO.

Any natural athlete is someone who can make his body, or an object, do what he wants it to without practicing the move in advance, as well as being able to know what is necessary three, four or five steps ahead.

By that definition, the greatest natural athlete I have ever seen is Doug Flutie.

I think he is Christian Lebanese by background, although he and his brothers all have very straight hair – just a little extra body hair.

Anyway, this 5'9" guy was completely unpredictable and could play with the monsters of the NFL in his late 30's and make the playoffs and pro-bowl. There was no one more exciting to watch in my opinion, and he was the reason I bought the dish when he played in Buffalo.

His college and Canadian football exploits are famous.

This guy was the king of improvisation, whether scrambling, shuffle passing, lateraling, or throwing to the 4th or 5th receiver 20 seconds after the play had broken down, I have never seen anyone do so much with such little size and really just average open field speed. (He can change direction very quickly, however)

Also, he is a hoops addict and can be found in any local gym trying to scrounge up a game.

Ever see those athlete completions on ABC where they would have athletes from different sports compete at general tasks like obstacle courses, “horse” and other skills contests. Thee results were very interesting and speeder “athletes” often did not compete very well, with guys like baseball pitchers and golfers often doing very well.

John Derbyshire said...

Steve: I bet there is a quantity to be extracted there--a g of athleticism. There's lots of folk wisdom on this. Just last Sunday my son's football coach told the lad: "Hold your head up! 90 percent of this game is just ATTITUDE, not physcial ability!" Eveybody knows what "unathletic" means, & that an "unathletic" person might very well, if you tried him out on a tennis court, turn out to have better hand-eye coordination than some star quarterback.

"Further from the origin" still has meaning, even in a space of 1,000 dimensions. And think of La Griffe's "criminality," which he treats as a sort of behavioral g factor. We think in these generalizations all the time. It's not likely they correspond to NOTHING real.

Sammler said...

I agree that black athletes' accomplishments are more likely to be ascribed to "athleticism" than those of equally athletic whites. This seems like residual racism, implying that the blacks are less motivated, or less intelligent, or less trained, since they are more naturally blessed with "athleticism".

John Savage said...

BTW, Steve, looks like your grammar checker is acting up on you and introducing errors. It looks like it changed "Willie Mays" to "Willie May". And also, it's treating "Brooks Robinson" as plural, so in the next sentence taking out "a" before "good fielder", and using "their" instead of "his" ("scrambling to their feet").

Darn grammar checkers!

Peter said...

Most of the bench press numbers are quite uninspiring. Keep in mind that they count reps at 185 pounds, not 225 as in the NFL combine. Walk into just about any gym with at least a moderate powerlifting/bodybuilding focus and you'll find any number of guys who can easily outlift the typical NBA draft prospect.

In fairness, NBA draft prospects lack the optimal build for bench pressing - barrel chested with relartively short limbs. Even so, most of the numbers on your chart are pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: You might be able to extract something interesting here, although range restriction is severe -- all these guys a tremendous players.

I'd argue that those stats prove just how difficult it is to measure the "sixth sense" you're trying to quantify - since the very best player on that list, bar none, finished 78th overall, which, with the exception of some guy at #79 who looks like he quit halfway through, appears to be just about dead last:

Blazers don't deserve Bowie 2.0

Team USA Blue vs White State Farm Game

USA Blue 105, USA White 104

Anonymous said...

Perhaps its human nature, more so among Caucasians, to search for, admire and envy skills that others possess. While Blacks and Hispanics as a rule don’t generally envy White culture and indeed often disparage it, Whites admire what they can find in Black and Hispanic culture.

Asians seem in-between, with most admiration reserved for White culture almost in equal proportion to their indifferent or even disdain for Black and Hispanic culture. However, Jewish culture seems obsessed with Black and even Hispanic culture in proportion to it’s disdain for White culture.

Perhaps this in one of the blessings and curses that comes with White culture. This goes beyond IQ as evidenced by divergent Asian and Jewish attitudes. It may be a marker for the competitiveness of a culture in terms of being able to identify, promote and incorporate exogenous excellence into ones own culture (or at least worldview).

A future topic to explore (or one already covered by Steve)?


steve said...

The point is, in analogy with g and principal component analysis, having "athleticism" means you are likely to be good at many different sports. Whereas, the ability to throw a baseball or football doesn't necessarily make you, e.g., a good soccer player. In most sports, a common set of correlated attributes like quickness, speed, strength, acceleration, body control are useful. (Perhaps the last one, body control, isn't necessarily correlated with the others -- we'd have to do the PCA to find out!)

There's a Spanish term "duende" used to describe Flamenco dancers and singers -- it means there is a special grace or beauty or ferocity inherent in their actions. Some sports writers in the past have used this term to describe great black athletes.

Rex Little said...

I would say that "athleticism" is a euphemism for "black" to the same extent that "intelligence" is a euphemism for "white". Blacks tend to be more athletic than whites on average, but there are plenty of athletic whites out there, just as there are intelligent blacks.

Ian Lewis said...

Steve, great post. I have noticed the same thing. Especially since my two favorite sports (the NFL and the NHL) are so different in that aspect. I am sure that there are least a few white players in the NFL who have displayed Athleticism, but I am racking my brain for one (Jeremy Schockey?, Tim "Crash" Dwight?, Fran Tarkenton? Doug Flutie?, Lance Allworth? - those are my best guesses). However, I can't remember ever hearing that in the NHL. Players tagged with "Great Athlete"? Absolutely. But not athleticism. Even for those players that exceled at multiple North American Team Sports (Chris Drury, Eric Lindros, Tom Glavine (MLB), etc).

Ian Lewis said...

One other thing that is interesting about the NBA is that, AFAIK, a Second Round draft pick has NEVER won teh Rookie of the Year award. Could you imagine that being true in any other Team Sport?

bjdouble said...

Related to sports: Dave Berri notes that the NYT rejected his column on Allen Iverson as sub-par because "everybody already knew that." But when Malcolm Gladwell published the same research in the NYT two months later, it was widely disputed.

Anonymous said...

I'd say "general" athleticism is especially important in football, where Quarterback is the only position that demands tremendously developed skills. I'm not saying technique doesn't exist at other positions, rather that it can be learned and that superior technique rarely outweighs athletic "g" (offensive line could be somewhat of an exception).

For example, there are many high school coaches who prefer that kids NOT play football before high school, so they don't injure themselves or develop bad habits. You would never say this about basketball. The reason is that in football, you fit people into physical (not skill) niches based on speed and size.

Randy Moss was a good high school basketball player. Imagine he had only played basketball in high school. He would still have been a better college football prospect than an all-state WR from Nebraska with mediocre size and 4.65 speed. He might even be a better player instantly -- especially against better competition. In fact, many college players are recruited to play different positions than they did in high school (where maybe they just put the best player/athlete at QB so he'd have the ball in his hands). This is because the specific skills needed at most positions are marginal. In soccer you may be incredibly fast but lack the ability to gain elite ball skills. This is almost never a concern in football.

Antonio Gates didn't play football in college. He was drafted and is now one of the best players at his position in the NFL. He has incredible physical gifts. This wouldn't work in baseball; drafting someone because he was 6'5 and fast wouldn't get you a great baseball player in a few months.

Antwaan Randle-El was a quarterback in college and is now a WR in the NFL. Because of skill? No, because of athleticism. I mentioned this is common in high school to college transitions. Skill matters at positions other than quarterback, but rather than determining the elite the skill factor is more likely to separate the elite into professionals and stars.

Vanya said...

Wes Welker, the white WR now playing for the Pats is consistently described as "athletic".

ReticentMan said...

I think the main dichotomy is between athleticism and skill, and it does make sense to me. Brooks Robinson and Peyton Manning are skill, and Vick is athleticism. Athleticism does end up being sort of a euphemism for black but I think that's more an artifact of nature than the people who use the terms.

In both categories there are aspects of mature and nurture. It matters both how much talent in either athleticism or skill you're born with and how much you train.

What's different though is that I think there's a bias towards thinking that elite athleticism is something that you must be born with, whereas elite skill can be acquired if you just train and practice enough (This is especially true in the NBA). That's why players with high athleticism and low skill get overdrafted and players with natural talent in the skill areas end up as draft steals.

The coaches figure they can take someone with a 44" vertical who can barely make a layup and train them to be a well rounded superstar, not realizing that the player lacks a fundamental talent for shooting, and will never develop that skill.

A particular example I like is Kwame Brown, the first high schooler taken first overall in the NBA draft. He has the body of a god, an unbelievable combination of size and athleticism, and people expected him to become a taller Karl Malone. A lot has been made of his mental deficiencies leading to his failure to become a great player, and there is truth in that. But what's also true is that he has hands of stone, and absolutely no touch, incredibly important skills in the NBA. These are natural abilities that you are mostly born with or without, and he was born without. You can train and train to increase them over time, but if you're starting from the ass end of the normal curve, you're never going to be a superstar.

The bias that I mentioned above is what I believe caused a player with no chance of ever being a great NBA player to become the #1 overall pick.

Anonymous said...

I am a boxing fan and can tell you that the announcers and writers have never referred to a white boxer as "athletic." Yet every black boxer is portrayed as "speedy" "quick" and "agile" with great handspeed. See Teddy Atlas on ESPN for a great example.

Meanwhile, white fighters hold all four heavyweight titles and most of the belts from middleweight to cruiserweight.

But, according to the sportswriters and experts, there is nary an "athlete" among 'em.

Anonymous said...

Anon --

I could not disagree more with your assessment of "g" regarding football.

As possibly the most complex team sport (look at the number of coaches), it requires an amazing amount of skill. The QB must like keep a clock in his head and a moving mental map of his receivers and the coverage and the blitz. The WR's must keep in their heads the routes they'll run and the means they'll use at just the right moment to brush off their coverage. Linemen, Corners, Safeties, all must have to a lesser or greater degree a mental map of the players, the play, the clock, and movements. Including that of their team-mates.

Pure athleticism is not enough; there are plenty of very fast sprinters who lack the ability to keep the moving mental map in place and don't succeed in the NFL.

Athleticism allows a fast WR to beat coverage several times in a game and perform amazingly graceful and powerful moves to catch the ball (inbounds). But it is skill, in knowing WHEN to make the move that allows a player like say, Terrell Owens to be successful.

The NBA pushes athleticism, as a result it is boring to watch. The NFL is like a constant, three-d chess match with violent collisions, so it's exciting.

If you've watched the History Channel "Human Weapon" the experience of the two hosts, one a MMA fighter, the other a former Pro Football DE and part-time Pro Wrestler, was instructive. Both had a good grounding in martial arts and were amazingly able to hold their own in some instances. They had the most trouble with Escrima, where the speed and unpredictable angles of attack proved too much for them. It may very well be that "touch" or the lack of it with Kwame Brown or other relative failures in the NBA may be related to lack of spatial skills (time, motion, mental maps).

Peter said...

Meanwhile, white fighters hold all four heavyweight titles and most of the belts from middleweight to cruiserweight.

Specifically, there are 17 titleholders in the heavyweight through middleweight divisions, counting the four main sanctioning bodies (IBF, WBC, WBA and WBO). Either ten or twelve of the titleholders are white, depending on whether you consider Arthur Abraham (Armenian) and Ruslan Chagaev (half Uzbek) white.

RWF said...

Athleticism resembles 'g' in the general population but I suspect that it breaks down at the elite levels where specialisms become more obvious. When I think back to school the same kids were generally best at long distance running and sprinting, as well as sports that required more spatial awareness and hand eye coordination. At the top level this clearly doesn't apply though.

Half Sigma said...

Bo Jackson?

Justin said...

I would agree with those sportscasters who don't call the white boxers "athletic." Whenever, I watch boxing and see one of the white guys, I can't help but notice how awkward they are in comparison to everyone else.

I think a lot of white people started to watch the UFC since it was dominated by white guys. However, black guys have arrived and are now starting to dominate. The athletic advantage is too great.

As for a "g" factor in athleticism, I think there is something to it. I am not sure, however, that thinking quickly during a game would comprise this athletic "g" factor.


Anonymous said...

I think there is a general athleticism in the sense of good body control, hand eye coordination, muscle quickness, and footspeed. Obviously some sports emphasize and capitalize on certain aspects of athleticism, and a person not possessing all of the above in abundance might still be able to find a profitable niche there.

In terms of race and athleticism, I wouldn't dispute that the best all-around athletes are disproportionately black. Still, I think this awareness leads to some sloppy thinking, in the same way that some people tend to assume that all Asians are good with numbers.

For example, I found the following little incident illuminating. I happened to be watching ESPN when they was covering the Colts season opener. The highlight reel included Matt Giordano, a white defensive back, returning an interception for a touchdown.

The ESPN commentator, who was also white, said of Giordano, "He isn't fast, but he was sure fast enough on this play."

Now, what do you think the odds are that this guy really knows whether or not Giordano is fast? Does he walk around with all of the NFL players' times in the 40 yard dash in his head?

As it happens, I've just looked up Giordano's listed time in the 40, which is 4.56. In other words, neither particularly fast nor slow for an NFL safety. It's probably somewhat quicker than average if you include NFL backups, which is what Giordano is, at least for now.

I've noticed this type of assumption before. A white receiver trots out on the field, catches a pass, and the commentators start talking about how he makes up for his lack of speed by running crisp routes. Do these guys really know that this player is unusually slow for an NFL receiver, or are they just assuming based upon his race?

Would they have said the same thing about a player like Jerry Rice, who ran a 4.6 to 4.7 in the 40 coming out of college? Doubtful.

Fred said...

"I am sure that there are least a few white players in the NFL who have displayed Athleticism, but I am racking my brain for one"

Jason Sehorn, who played cornerback for the NY Giants, was a phenomenal, freakishly-gifted, all-around athlete. A better athlete than football player, in fact.

"By that definition, the greatest natural athlete I have ever seen is Doug Flutie."

Flutie was an absolutely great all-around football player. Aside from the running and passing, on the rare occasion he had to throw a block, he was good at that too. I remember him leveling a defensive player in a game late in his career. Plus, Flutie was the last player to successfully drop kick in the NFL.

Bill said...

Yes, athleticism is a general quality. But you are mixing things up a bit here. Sheer speed and jumping ability are related to athleticism due to their requiring a certain amount of coordination to pull off, but they are not the most important factor, which is obviously some neurological rather than mechanical attribute.

To be a top-tier athlete, you need to be fast and strong, but you can be both yet still be a poor athlete. I'm pretty strong and fast (well, used to be...), but I've known plenty of guys who were stronger and faster than me. For some reason, in most cases I was a better athlete. I don't know how to explain it, but some guys just don't move right.

On the other hand, I'm stronger and faster than my uncle and cousin, but they're better athletes than I am. My cousin was named PAC 10 player of the year last year, and his dad (my uncle) was a pro soccer player back in the 80s. When you play against guys like that, it's like they know what you're going to do before you do. It's a thing of beauty.

There's that killer instinct, too. That can't be underestimated as a factor.

One thing I suspect superior athletes have is a certain ability to see things in slow motion. The few times in my life that I've made really incredible moves things quite literally slowed to a crawl. Once, after throwing a pitch, a guy blasted a line drive right at my face. Suddenly, time was distorted to the point that I could easily observe the rotation of the stitches on the ball as it curved in, so I put up my glove and snatched it like I was picking an apple, all while totally off balance from the follow-through. I think elite athletes have those moments quite frequently. Increased frame rate, perhaps?

As for the term being a euphemism for black, well, maybe it is headed that direction like daveg said, but that wasn't always the case. I suspect that people who use it that way don't really know what it is, or they're using it to describe distinct qualities such as sheer footspeed.

BTW, hate to harp on this subject, but it does seem that blogger is causing some problems here as a previous poster mentioned. It's been eating some of my links, and I was still having the crash problem with Firefox last time I checked.

You might want to check out

Steve Sailer said...

Cal Ripken Jr. never lacked for praise, but was he called "athletic" much? He was an extremely effective shortstop with an arm that could gun down hitters from deep in the hole, so his assist totals were huge, but Ozzie Smith was the "athletic" one, right?

Anyway, my wife heard an interview with Ripken once asking how he could break Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record, and he said that one thing he'd notice was that other players missed games sometimes because they got injured at home, like dropping household items on their toes. Ripken said he had never dropped anything around the house in his entire life! I thought of that because I fell down yesterday unlocking my front door. True story!

Anonymous said...

With respect to Jan’s statement re whites (particularly educated whites) admiring black (and to a lesser extent (predominately African ancestry) Hispanic) athletic achievements, I think it has a lot less to do with true admiration and a lot more with searching for something positive to see in black/Hispanic culture and achievements in face of the discomfort caused by the glaring achievement gaps between whites and blacks and Hispanics and the other social consequences caused by the 1.1 and 0.7 SD differences in cognitive ability between whites and these minorities, respectively. Whites can’t help noticing these differences and the sense of democratic egalitarianism inculcated into children by modern Western society and fear of having racist/un-PC thoughts often makes them feel guilty. Since we’re all stuck here and have to try to live together, many people seem to gain comfort by trying to find admirable accomplishments things, no matter how trivial in the grand scheme of things, by otherwise socially problematic minority groups in the vain hope that this will somehow make the real and serious problems go away.

-Philly Guy

Anonymous said...

I don’t think “athleticism” is just a byword for black. What is meant by athleticism (as opposed to athletic ability, which is a much broader and more nebulous concept) is the ability to move one’s body quickly (in the sense of acceleration, change of direction, and top speed) and powerfully. This is largely a function biomechanics and musculo-tendon physiology and chemistry. Differences in physique and physiology clearly give blacks an advantage over whites in this respect and the word “athleticism” is applied to them much more often because they are much more likely to possess a high degree of “athleticism.”

Re physique, blacks and whites, when matched for SES variables, are virtually identical in average height, however, their physique and body proportions are much different. Blacks have shorter torsos, broader shoulders, smaller ribcages, narrower hips, and longer limbs (with comparative elongation of the distal segments). Fit samples of blacks and whites appear to be about the same weight on average (or perhaps blacks are marginally heavier), but fit blacks have on average less body fat, particularly on their limbs. It follows that blacks have a greater fat free body mass (i.e., bone, muscle and viscera) than whites. The smaller ribcage and narrower pelvis would indicate less viscera weight and indeed, blacks have been found to have substantially more total body musculature and denser, heavier bones than whites. This greater musculature is also distributed differently. Blacks show considerably more musculature in their glutes and thighs than whites, which gives a substantial advantage in locomotion. Blacks have also been shown to have on average greater cross sectional thickness in their limb musculature than whites, with the difference much greater in the proximal than distal limb segments. Naturally higher average testosterone levels and a greater number of testosterone receptors probably contribute to the leaner more heavily muscled physique of blacks compared to whites.

The average physiological differences give blacks a substantial advantage in athleticism. Narrower hips mean that locomotive force is applied closer to the center of the body’s mass, leading to greater biomechanical efficiency by putting a greater portion of the force generated into forward locomotion and causing less to be wasted in rotational force on the body (not to mention the smaller adjustments that have to be constantly made while running or walking to move the center of gravity towards the leg in contact with the ground). Longer limbs provide greater reach, stride length (both forward and lateral), and longer acceleration paths, both for imparting velocity to thrown objects and for accelerating one’s own body for jumping. The problem with long limbs is that they move the center of mass farther from the pivot point (i.e., the joint), causing greater torque and requiring more force to accelerate the limb or change its direction. However, here again black physique provides them with the best of both worlds. The heavy musculature concentrated in the hips and in the proximal segments keeps most of the mass close to the pivot point and provides a lot of force, and the relatively long, thin distal segments don’t create that much torque while still giving the benefits of long reach, stride and acceleration paths. Blacks lower average body fat and viscera weight from comparatively short torsos with small ribcages provide a greater power to weight ratio and less top-heaviness, with a greater portion of their mass being located in the musculature of the hips and thighs, which provide locomotive power.

Muscle and tendon physiology also contribute to black “athleticism.” It is well publicized that blacks have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers and higher levels of glycotic and phosphogenic enzyme activity levels, when diet and activity levels are controlled for, which would provide an advantage in explosive, short-duration muscular exertions. Additionally, blacks have comparatively long tendons and short muscle bellies compared to total muscle-tendon length compared to whites. When doing repetitive movements like running, the muscle and tendon of the opposing muscle group to contracting muscles are stretched, which stores energy like an elastic band, which is then added to the backstroke as the opposing muscles contract back. (Try taking an appendage such as a finger and stretching it back and notice how it snaps back to its resting position when you release it to see this stored energy effect.) Tendons are more elastic than muscles and contribute more to this effect. Blacks’ comparatively longer tendons would give them comparatively greater energy storage and retransfer while running, causing them to spend less energy and be more efficient. It is also established that blacks have greater muscle elasticity as well as proportionally longer tendons (their tendon elasticity is about the same as whites).
-Philly Guy

Anonymous said...

With respect to Steve’s comments about Manning, his throwing ability should not being labeled “athleticism.” It is something else (though it does fall under the penumbra of “athletic ability”). Manning’s effectiveness passing has little to do with his speed or strength. There are a lot of guys who couldn’t make the NFL who can run faster and lift more weight than Peyton can, and, while he has a good arm, you could find a fair number of quarterbacks and javelin throwers who could probably throw the ball faster and farther that could not quarterback effectively in the NFL. Manning’s passing abilities involve a combination of psychomotor skills, visuospatial abilities and intelligence. Peyton needs to be smart enough to recognize defensive sets and coverages and blitzes and to make adjustments (which he is famous for) at the line of scrimmage. He also needs to know where his receivers are supposed to be so he can find them quickly. Then he needs visuospatial ability to perceive the velocities and directions of his receivers and the defenders and calculate the angles and determine where he wants to put the ball so that his receivers can catch it, the defenders can’t, and also put his receiver in a position so that he takes the ball in stride (i.e., put the ball where the receiver will be, not where he is) so that he can gain yardage after the catch and isn’t left standing flatfooted to be drilled by the safety or a linebacker. This requires intelligence as well as visuospatial perception because the defensive backs in the NFL are so fast that, unless they blow the coverage, there usually isn’t a whole lot of space between the receiver and the defenders. An opening usually emerges in the brief instant between when the receive breaks on his route, changing direction, and the defender adjusts to this change. A QB has to know when his receiver is supposed to break. Finally, Peyton needs the hand eye coordination to accurately throw the ball where he wants to.

Peyton’s ability to do the above well is the primary reason why he is a good QB, not his speed, size or arm strength (as it is/was for Brady, Palmer, Montana, Young, Marino, Moon, Kelly, Flutie, Elway, and Van Brocklyn, just to name a few). Michael Vick’s and Donovan McNabb’s inability to do this well, despite their tremendous “athleticism” and canon arms, is why they are/were not particularly good QBs. (Everyone knows that Vick couldn’t pass, but some of you may object to my categorization of McNabb. Trust me, as a Philadelphian who has seen almost every game he has played in, he is not that good. Limbaugh’s analysis was completely correct. He rode that great defense to 4 NFC championship games and played terribly in the one Superbowl they got him to. If you watch him closely, as I have, you will notice that he is terribly inaccurate. He waits for his receivers to be wide open and standing still or throws the ball low and/or behind them, making them stop, thereby getting them drilled, and is horrible at going through his progressions and finding his secondary receivers. Before anyone objects that he has terrible receivers, notice how much better they looked last year when Jeff Garcia, who is by no means a great QB, was throwing them the ball and hitting them in stride. If you watch the Eagles regularly, you’ll also notice that the offense they run asks very little of McNabb. Mostly short dink passes to the outside and screens to Westbrook. They don’t dare let him go over the middle and throw into traffic with any frequency. If they did, all the Eagle’s receivers would be in the hospital and he’d have a ridiculous number of interceptions.)

Interestingly, when comparing whites and blacks on the above skills, blacks seem to have far less of an advantage. Whites have been shown time and gain to have better visuospatial skills and higher g. With respect to psychomotor skills, they can be divided into several categories and black-white differences are not as well researched.
1) fine motor coordination (aiming, hitting and catching) – whites have on average better hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity than blacks, with the difference comparatively greater in the dominant than non-dominant hand. Blacks, however, are more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous.
2) gross-motor coordination (basically grace and body control) – I know of no data on this re racial differences. This is often one of the most underappreciated aspects of athletic ability and is responsible for true greatness in some sports (think Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler – there are other guys you’ve never heard of who could jump as high, but they didn’t have that grace to the hoop. Steve Nash and Larry Bird are other examples.) Steve seems to think blacks have some “magical ability” or special creativeness here. I’m skeptical. At a high level of most popular American sports, such as basketball and many positions in football, you need a lot of strength and explosive athleticism to be competitive, as well as grace. You don’t need to be the most explosively athletic (as Jerry Rice has shown), but you need to meet some (very high) minimum threshold and I think this is where whites probably fall down, not in actual gross-motor coordination/grace.
3) speed and consistency of reflexes/reaction time – The data here is mixed, to the extent that there is data at all. As many readers who follow IQ testing will know, whites appear to have faster and more consistent reaction times (but not movement times) to visual and aural stimuli (and perhaps also faster inspection time). However, I know of one study that shows blacks having faster patellar tendon reflexes. Perhaps the direction of ethnic differences depends on the modality of the stimuli (e.g., visual vs. tactile)?
4) balance – I know of no research on ethnic differences, but this is clearly important in many sports. I did read somewhere that Neanderthals had small inner ear cavities than modern humans and would have had poorer balance as a consequence. Perhaps there are also racial differences among modern homo sapiens sapiens?

Peter said...

I think a lot of white people started to watch the UFC since it was dominated by white guys. However, black guys have arrived and are now starting to dominate. The athletic advantage is too great.

Two* of the five UFC division champions are black, but if you look at all the fighters competing in the league the percentage of blacks in fairly low. I don't have time to count right now but would estimate that it's no more than 15%. What's more, the percentage doesn't seem to have changed much over time.

It's also my impression that the lesser mixed martial arts leagues such as BodogFight and KOTC are mostly white.

* = middleweight champion Anderson Silva is black by American standard but probably considered mulatto in his native Brazil

PatrickH said...

Wow, what a discussion. Color me 'utterly intimidated'. I simply have nothing else to say. Very high quality comments on this post.

Anonymous said...

In terms of NFL QBs. The ratio of Black to White in this country is 7 to 1. Unless you believe Blacks are genetically superior athletes there is no reason why there should be more than 3 to 5 Black QB in the NFL.

When Blacks are overrepresented in certain Professional sport positions its almost always because the postion requires speed and/or jumping ability.

Anonymous said...

I would say the term athleticism describes natural stregnth, agility, speed, power, and stamina. In my humble opinion I believe whites are both natural stronger, and possess a great deal more stregnth than that of any other race. Quite possibly stamina as well (with the exception of east africans such as Ethiopians, or Kenyans.

I believe we see this in professional sports today. As far as boxing is concerned, Europeans dominate. (More specifically Eastern Europeans). Of course you will not hear this on any main stream media. It runs counter to their agenda. As far as team sports are concerned. I believe that there is a caste system in effect. I believe that young white males are basically given the short end of the stick when it comes to professional team sports such as Basketball, and Football.

Anonymous said...

Wow philly guy, do you have your own blog? I printed all that out to send to my brother.


Mark Seecof said...

The problem with "athleticism" is that it's ephemeral and basically sterile. Sure, the good athlete benefits himself, and his team (and his genes, generally), but there's no way to collect and share athleticism with others[1] (apart from offspring).

By contrast, intelligence can be accumulated (into techniques, technology, science, books, etc.) and shared. While only a few team-mates can benefit-- briefly-- from someone's athleticism, everyone can benefit-- forever, in theory-- from someone's intelligence.

Doug Flutie's athletic abilities are of much less use to me than Nikola Tesla's intelligence.

Assuming there's an "a-factor" for athleticism, analogous to the "g-factor" for intelligence, we'll want to study its underpinnings so we can help people improve "a-factors," and to see whether there are (epi-?)genetic or environmental influences which drive a- and g-factors (perhaps even in different directions).

However, the "a-factor" will never be a good substitute, socially, for the g-factor, regardless of how "a-factor" distribution varies with race.

[1] Nowadays we may all enjoy watching athletes from the stands or on the idiot box, but you can't call that productive.

Anonymous said...

Justin writes:

"I would agree with those sportscasters who don't call the white boxers "athletic." Whenever, I watch boxing and see one of the white guys, I can't help but notice how awkward they are in comparison to everyone else.

I think a lot of white people started to watch the UFC since it was dominated by white guys. However, black guys have arrived and are now starting to dominate. The athletic advantage is too great."

13 of the 20 boxing titles from heavyweight to middleweight are held by whites. 3 of the 5 UFC titles are held by whites and both black champs (Silva and Jackson) have lost to white fighters and won very close decisions against whites in their last fights.

If you saw the UFC card last night it sure doesn't look like blacks are going to take over anytime soon as both were knocked out by average white fighters (Florian and Leben).

Anonymous said...

PhillyGuy, any thoughts on race car drivers.


Anonymous said...

Unlike an intelligence ‘g’, an athletic ‘g’ seems to consist of components that are not as strongly correlated among themselves and as neatly ordered by race. Whites seem to have advantages in sports like strength while blacks have advantages like speed.

I think the evolution of the game of basketball has helped create the bias of athletic ‘g’ defined in terms of Black traits. The game has evolved from a more patient, technique-based team game into a faster, improvised star showcase. It seems like men’s basketball used to be played the way the women’s game is now only faster and with more dunking at the expense of White players.

I think the NBA changed the game in response to market forces. An interesting question is why White fans found the changes appealing. More open play allows stars to shine brighter which is a probably creates more loyalties and moves more merchandize in our individualistic society. But is there really a neutral and natural athletic atheistic that disproportionally favors Blacks advantages (speed, agility, explosiveness, etc), are Whites more interested in watching different people who can do things that are nigh impossible for them, or are there other explanations.

Whites have comparative advantages in strength, hand to eye coordination, intelligence (which affects focus, discipline, strategy, etc) yet the sports they dominate seem less appealing. Even sports that were once considered exciting like boxing or have a visceral combat appeal like wrestling seem to suffer with White domination. Conversely, is golf more exciting to watch now with a >=25% Black Tiger Woods than when 100% White Nicholas or Palmer dominated the marketers make out? Do the Williams sisters make women’s tennis more watchable?

Unlike the intelligence ‘g’ which clearly leads advances society in objective ways like science, any proposed athletic ‘g’ seems relatively arbitrary and irrelevant. The only evolutionary relevant social standard I can think of would favor individual and team martial sports with and without weapons in which Whites would do far better than the popular NBA or NFL (although MMA are on the rise).

Whites, especially the monied and media elites, are obsessed with non-White music, food, travel, culture, etc while cultural non-Whites are relatively ethnocentric. This same tendency may help explain why most Americans tend to favor sports that define athleticism in terms that are foreign to but intrigue Whites.


Bill said...

After reading PhillyGuy's comments, I have to chip in again.

The attributes he outlines that contribute to black "athleticism" are specialized adaptations that lead to higher footspeed and leaping ability, which blacks no doubt have in general. I'm not so sure about different testosterone levels:

Whites who measure testosterone tend to view whites who are similar to them as the standard, hence Rushton's measurements of white college students to prove his point. Black males in college, as we all know, are disproportionately selected as students for their athletic ability. Not so for whites. Therefore, comparing black and white male college students is actually a backward way to go about determining racial differences in an androgenic hormone.

In my own experience, both races have their respective advantages. Blacks are faster and better jumpers, but whites are stronger and have better overall endurance. I went to a high school that was about 50/50 white and black. The fastest guys were black, but the strongest were white. Out of the top 10 in bench press and squat, 7 or 8 were white guys. Out of the top 10 in 100-400 meters, 7 or 8 were black. Interestingly, there was significant crossover at that level. There were white and black guys who were in the top 10 in both.

But consider modern sports. What is the most important of all influences on modern sports? That's easy! It's TV. What looks good on TV? Spectacular jumps and bursts of speed, of course. That is really what people are talking about when they say "athleticism". They mean it is very impressive on the small screen. Basketball and football are great TV sports, because you can see close-ups of the highlight-making dunks and leaps over the goal line. These are the money-shots, and they are naturally dominated by the kinds of displays made possible by uniquely African abilities.

Because of TV's influence, sports have been increasingly tweaked to favor these abilities. My grandpa once told me about how watching Rocky Marciano on film was kind of disappointing, because he'd be hunkered down taking blow after blow, and then all of the sudden he'd hit the guy's chin and the match would be over. Similarly, rugby, with its seemingly pointless running back and forth and scrums in which no one can see the ball, is a bore for most people. Baseball is kind of dull on TV, too.

What people want to see is animated figures with a big, bright ball doing quick, flashy, soaring moves. The moves whites are good at, such as the clutch hit, the efficient pass, the extra ounce of strength needed to push the scrum, the devastating inside punch, and the perfectly-placed slider just don't have the flamboyant, exuberant flair that sells that six-pack of bud light to the casual fan.

But even today, despite the advantages given to African abilities, white guys still win games. That's because white men are just plain good at winning. That's undeniable, and that's athleticism.

Anonymous said...

After my rather long exposition, I should probably provide the sources from which I drew my summary. I did this rather quickly from various lists I have, so there may be some repeats, but I hope it is helpful for people who are interested in ethnic differences in athletic ability to expand their knowledge on their own.
-Philly Guy


Books (including studies referenced therein):
Jon Entine, Taboo.

C. Bouchard, R. Malina, and L. Perusse, Genetics of Fitness and Physical Performance.

Barry Bogin, Patterns of Human Growth, 2nd Ed.

Tanner & Eveleth, Worldwide Variation in Human Growth, 2nd Ed

C. S. Coon, Racial Adaptations. (Useful info for effect of retinal pigmentation on reaction times.)

M. Levin, Why Race Matters (In addition to the section discussing race and athletic ability, there is data in other parts of the book on various psychomotor skills.)

J. P. Rushton, Race, Evolution and Behavior. (Deals with subject peripherally).

Michael H. Hart, Understanding Human History. (Deals with subject peripherally).


J Appl Physiol 1986 Nov;61(5):1758-61, Skeletal muscle characteristics in sedentary black and Caucasian males. Ama PF, Simoneau JA, Boulay MR, Serresse O, Theriault G, Bouchard C.

Ethn Health 1996 Dec;1(4):337-47; Ethnic differences in body composition and their relation to health and disease in women. Gasperino J.

Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Jun;71(6):1392-402, Measures of body composition in blacks and whites: a comparative review. Wagner DR, Heyward VH.

J Appl Physiol 1984 Jun;56(6):1647-9, Density of lean body mass is greater in blacks than in whites. Schutte JE, Townsend EJ, Hugg J, Shoup RF, Malina RM, Blomqvist CG.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1995 Aug;80(8):2291-7, Greater secretion of growth hormone in black than in white men: possible factor in greater bone mineral density--a clinical research center study. Wright NM, Renault J, Willi S, Veldhuis JD, Pandey JP, Gordon L, Key LL, Bell NH.

J Natl Cancer Inst 1986 Jan;76(1):45-8; Serum testosterone levels in healthy young black and white men. Ross R, Bernstein L, Judd H, Hanisch R, Pike M, Henderson B.

J Appl Physiol 1999 Mar;86(3):915-23. African runners exhibit greater fatigue resistance, lower lactate accumulation, and higher oxidative enzyme activity. Weston AR, Karamizrak O, Smith A, Noakes TD, Myburgh KH.

J Appl Physiol 1993 Oct;75(4):1822-7, Superior fatigue resistance of elite black South African distance runners. Coetzer P, Noakes TD, Sanders B, Lambert MI, Bosch AN, Wiggins T, Dennis SC.

Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1990;61(1-2):68-72, Physiological differences between black and white runners during a treadmill marathon. Bosch AN, Goslin BR, Noakes TD, Dennis SC.

Scand J Med Sci Sports 1995 Aug;5(4):209-21, Aerobic exercise capacity at sea level and at altitude in Kenyan boys, junior and senior runners compared with Scandinavian runners. Saltin B, Larsen H, Terrados N, Bangsbo J, Bak T, Kim CK, Svedenhag J, Rolf CJ.

Scand J Med Sci Sports 1995 Aug;5(4):222-30, Morphology, enzyme activities and buffer capacity in leg muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian runners. Saltin B, Kim CK, Terrados N, Larsen H, Svedenhag J, Rolf CJ.

Racial differences in the sums of skinfolds and percentage of body fat estimated from impedance in black and white girls, 9 to 19 years of age: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study. Morrison JA, Barton BA, Obarzanek E, Crawford PB, Guo SS, Schreiber GB. Division of Cardiology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229, USA.

Comparison of viscoelastic characteristics in triceps surae between Black
and White athletes. Fukashiro S, Abe T, Shibayama A, Brechue WF.

Total body potassium differs by sex and race across the adult age span. He Q, Heo M, Heshka S, Wang J, Pierson RN Jr, Albu J, Wang Z, Heymsfield SB, Gallagher D. Obesity Research Center, St Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, and Institute of Human Nutrition, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY 1025, USA.

Peering Under the Hood of Africa's Runners, by Constance Holden

Current Science, Vol. 92, No. 1. 2007. ACTN3: Athlete Gene Prevalence in North India. Goel and Mittal.

Nature Genetics, Published online: 9 September 2007 | doi:10.1038/ng2122
Loss of ACTN3 gene function alters mouse muscle metabolism and shows evidence of positive selection in humans. Daniel G MacArthur1,2, Jane T Seto1,2, Joanna M Raftery1, Kate G Quinlan1,2, Gavin A Huttley3, Jeff W Hook4, Frances A Lemckert4, Anthony J Kee5, Michael R Edwards6, Yemima Berman1, Edna C Hardeman5, Peter W Gunning2,4, Simon Easteal3, Nan Yang1 & Kathryn N North1,2

Black sprinters and the anthropology of West African populations
• P.F.M. Ama, J.A. Simoneau, M.R. Boulay, O. Serresse, G. Thiériault, C. Bouchard: Skeletal muscle characteristics in sedentary Black and Caucasian males, Journal of Applied Physiology, 5/1986; p. 1758-1761
• P.F.M. Ama, P. Lagasse, C. Bouchard, J.A. Simoneau: Anaerobic performances in black and white subjects, MSSE, 4/1990
• P.F.M. Ama, S. Ambassa: Buoyancy of African black and European white males, American Journal of Human Biology, 9/1997
• L. Gerace et al.: Skeletal differences between black and white men, American Journal of Human biology, 6/1994
• Bradley C. Nindl, William J. Kraemer, Wesley H. Emmert, Scott A. Mazzetti, Lincoln A. Gotschalk, Margot Putukian, Wayne J. Sebastianelli, John F. Patton: Comparison of body composition assesment among lean black and white male collegiate athletes, MSSE, 5/1998
• Robert M. Malina: Racial and ethnic variation in the motor development and performance of American children, Canadian Journal of Sports Sciences, 1988; p. 136-143
• Takashi Abe, James B. Brown, William F. Brechue: Architectural characteristics of muscle in black and white college football players, MSSE, 10/1999
• Kenneth J. Ellis, Steven A. Abrams, William W. Wong: Body composition of a young, multiethnic female population, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997; p. 724-31
• W.J. Duey, D.R. Bassett jr., D.J. Torok, E.T. Howley, V. Bond, P. Mancuso, R. Trudell: Skeletal muscle fibre type and capillary density in college-aged blacks and whites, Annals of Human Biology, 4/1997
• N.A. Ponthieux, D.G. Barker: Relationships between race and physical fitness, Research Quaterly, No. 4/1965
• Jose Antonio, Chris Street: Speed Demons - The domination of sport by blacks,
• Bruce Ettinger, Stephen Sidney, Steven R. Cummings, Cesar Libanati, Daniel D. Bikle, Irene S. Tekawa, Kimberly Tolan, Peter Steiger: Racial differences in bone density between young adult black and white subjects, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1997; p. 429-434
Kenyans and Ethiopans
• Marco Tartaglia, Giuseppina Scano, Gian Franco de Stefano: An anthropogenetic study on the Oromo and Amhara of Central Ethiopia, American Journal of Human Biology, 8/1996
• B. Saltin, C.K. Kim, N. Terrados, H. Larssen, J. Svedenhag, C.J. Rolf: Morphology, enzyme activities and buffer capacity in leg muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian runners, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 5/1995
• B. Saltin, C.K. Kim, N. Terrados, H. Larssen, J. Svedenhag, C.J. Rolf: Aerobic exercise capacity at sea level and at altitude in Kenyan boys, junior and senior runners compared with Scandinavian runners, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 5/1995
• Alon Eliakim, Dan Nemet, Louis Shenkman: Serum enzyme activities following long-distance running: Comparison between Ethiopian and white athletes, Israel Journal of Medical Sciences, 11/1995
Black South Africans
• Adéle R. Weston, O. Karamizrak, A. Smith, T.D. Noakes, Kathryn H. Myburgh: African runners exhibit greater fatigue resistance, lower lactate accumulation and higher oxidative enzyme activity, Journal of Applied Physiology, 3/1999; p. 915-923
• Andrew N. Bosch, Brian R. Goslin, Timothy D. Noakes, Steven C. Dennis: Physiological differences between black and white runners during a treadmill marathon, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 1990; p. 68-72
• Pieter Coetzer, Timothy D. Noakes, Barry Sanders, Michael I. Lambert, Andrew N. Bosch, Toni Wiggins, Steven C. Dennis: Superior fatigue resistance of black South African endurance runners, Journal of Applied Physiology, 4/1993; p. 1822-27
• Adéle R. Weston, Z. Mbambo, Kathryn H. Myburgh: Running economy of African and Caucasian distance runners, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 6/2000, p. 1130-4

General articles
• Tim Noakes: Why do Africans run so swiftly?, South African Journal of Science, 11-12/1998
• David R. Basset, jr. and Edward T. Howley: Limiting factors for maximum oxygen uptake and determinats of endurance performance, MSSE, 1/2000; p. 70-84
• Ward-Smith, A.J.: Aerobic and anaerobic energy conversion during high-intensity exercise, MSSE, 12/1999, p. 1855-1860
• Scientific American: Building the Elite Athlete, September 2000, especially pp. 90-97 (Gary Taubes: Deconstructing the Taboo), 98-103 (Reinout van Wagtendonk: Unlikely Domin-ation)
• Jesper L. Andersen, Peter Schjerling, Bengt Saltin: Muscle, genes and athletic performance, Scientific American, September 2000 (see for body dimension comparisons).

guest007 said...

If you want to see all around athletes, watch the show the Best Ranger Competition. When they show all of the contestants together, they look like a crowd at a NASCAR event. Yet, the event requires a huge amount of natural athletic ability. However, it does not seem to favor sprinters or jumpers.