By Dan Turner
When Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder opined about slavery, eugenics and black American athletes, it ended his career as a sports commentator on CBS. When American Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson made similar comments to a British newspaper, it left some wondering whether he'd face the same fate -- Johnson, too, works as a sports commentator, for the BBC.
The answer is, probably not. That's because Johnson, unlike Snyder, is African American and thus can say things about African Americans that whites can't ...
My basic assumption is that in most complex situations nature and nurture are of roughly similar importance. North America and the West Indies have better nurture than Africa, so it's hardly surprising that a majority of black nine second men are from the Diaspora rather than from Africa. (Of course, in the short run, drugs matter: Jamaica's rise relative to the U.S. from 2004 to 2008 stemmed largely from America finally cracking down on drugs -- e.g., Marion Jones going to prison -- but Jamaica not. But, in the long run, this tends to work out.)
Einstein said that explanations should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. The 100m dash data is congruent with a model with two, possibly three major factors:
- Nature -- On average, blacks tend to be faster runners for , especially men of West African descent in the sprints, the shorter the better.
- Nurture -- On average, the environment (defined broadly to include health, wealth, coaching, shoes, organization, drug test evasion sophistication, etc.) is better for sprinters in North America and the West Indies than in Africa.
What I can't tell is whether we need a third factor, which is differences in nature (genes) between West Africans and their distant cousins in the northern part of the New World. Because I don't see an obvious mechanism for selecting for faster sprinters, and because it's not obvious we need to find one, I'm not enthusiastic about this hypothesized third factor. But I can't totally reject it either.