cover image Darwin's Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race

Darwin's Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race

John Milton Hoberman. Mariner Books, $15.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-395-82292-0

Tackling an issue rarely broached by black or white commentators, Hoberman argues that the traumatic history of America has led blacks to prize athleticism so much that it substitutes for other achievement and perpetuates images of intellectual inferiority. He also takes the larger society to task for not probing the racial significance of sports and for perpetuating stereotypes and false ""virtual integration"" in sports imagery. If Hoberman (Mortal Engines) writes more ponderously than an enlightened sportswriter, he delves thoughtfully into history. He observes that the black soldier and aviator were public icons during WWII, but that those images were subsequently suppressed and replaced by sportive ones. He shows the way the racial divide develops similarly in European sports: ""[M]edia saturation means that every modern society generates its own racial subcultures of sports."" He deconstructs the way black intellectuals (Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson) distort the cultural importance of athletics. Finally, he delves into questions of racial biology, disputing the folk wisdom that slavers selected hardy people and that slavery helped create even hardier ones. Similarly, he adds, arguments about the inherent superiority of black athletes cannot be proven, and black sports success remains influenced by culture. In the end, Hoberman maintains, the race-based images of sports influence right-wing thinking about black criminality and inherited intelligence. This provocative book deserves wide discussion. (Mar.)