Salvo 08.10.2023 9 minutes

Long-Distance Runaround

Athletics, runners at finish line, overhead view (Digital Composite)

What the critics of biological males in female sports miss.

It’s been busy on the males-in-female-sports front. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act; Kansas overrode its Democratic governor’s veto to preserve female-only spaces in sports; Caitlyn Jenner launched a political action committee dedicated to “keep boys out of women’s sports”; female basketball star Brittany Griner called sex segregation in sports a “crime”; and sports-equality activist Riley Gaines was violently assaulted in San Francisco following a talk she gave on the subject.

Transgenderism in athletics highlights the extent of the hard-Left’s extremist, egalitarian program, one that looks to erase all diversity between the sexes in the name of liberating the oppressed—basic biological realities and their rationalist self-image (and their own daughters) be damned.

Alice Dreger, bioethics professor at Northwestern and author of a book about the politicization of science, Galileo’s Middle Finger, once said that “the reason we have females separated in sports is because in many sports the best female athletes can’t compete with the best male athletes. And everybody knows that but nobody wants to say it. Females are structured like a disabled class for all sorts of, I think, good reasons.” Dreger is certainly correct, but consider the following anecdotes you never hear about regarding other competitive mismatches based on core, biological differences

Years back, a Kenyan native at a Pennsylvania college lied to his track coach to get off the pole-vaulting team. He was pushed into two-mile steeplechase racing, and on his third run, he won the national junior college championship and later became number three in the entire world. Another Kenyan at a school in Texas, despite having no running background and being a heavy smoker, managed to become the outstanding athlete of all sports in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics after breaking numerous long-distance running records. There is also the story of a “stout” 5’8,” 190-pound (once again) Kenyan who sought out a track scholarship after he spent all of his college money. He made the national cross country championship in his first season and quickly became a ten-time All-American runner.

Sports Illustrated journalist David Epstein recounted these stories and more in his 2014 book Sports Genes (which Barack Obama apparently read), which covers how sex and racial differences are manifested in the sports world. Each vignette would seem to analogize well with the Lia Thomases of the world as they describe individuals who have managed to gain huge comparative advantages, dashing away years of opponents’ hard work and dedication in the process.

Three things mark men’s advantage over women in sports. First: muscle mass. Men have almost twice as much of it in their upper body and 50 percent more of it in their legs than women—and men have heavier skeletons as well. They also have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which contract more quickly than other muscle fibers and are crucial for power movements such as sprinting. This makes men 40-75 percent stronger than women. As Epstein writes, if you took a thousand men off the street, 997 would be stronger than the average woman. Such stark differences make humans similar to gorillas, one of the most sexual dimorphic species on the planet.

The level of dimorphism between the sexes traces back to their separate, but intertwined, evolutionary journeys. Due to males having to protect females from other males and competing for status, the ability to fight and posture became an adaptive trait due to natural selection. This was especially pronounced in humans because of the stark disparities between males’ and females’ capacity to reproduce. Compared to other species, human females can produce only a few offspring—and at huge expense. Man, by contrast, can multiply copies of his genes much more easily and is far less discriminatory than women in choosing mates (being the caregiver, females scrutinize their partner more, looking for things like status, security, and parental commitment). Think of Genghis Khan, who sired so many children with hundreds of wives and concubines he is said to be the reason 0.5 percent of East Asian males today carry a near-identical Y-chromosome.

Man’s need to combat and intimidate is further reflected in features like his comparatively pronounced jaw bones and brow ridges, adaptations which make him more difficult to knock over (which brings to mind the controversy surrounding male-to-female MMA fighter Fallon Fox).

Secondly, men have narrower hips and pelvises compared to women, which means their strides are more energy efficient and less prone to injury. By contrast, ACL tears are an epidemic among female athletes. In gymnastics, for instance, a big reason why females are younger than males is the former’s height and hip-growth spurts which, without attendant muscle growth, make in-air rotation more difficult. 

Thirdly, men have longer arms and legs relative to their height, as well as bigger hearts and lungs, which, again, helps in an assortment of competitive sports.  

The human traits needed for reproduction, of course, are developed during puberty. Prior to that, boys and girls are physically quite similar and possess almost identical traits like running speed. But after puberty hits, Epstein notes that it is as if boys are put on steroids. With the surge of testosterone boys receive, which reduces their sensitivity to pain and increases their aggressiveness, by age 18 they can throw three times farther than the average girl.

A useful snapshot of the differences between the sexes is the story of middle-distance runner Caster Semenya. “Just look at her!” Russian rival Maria Savinova controversially said in pointing out her overt mannishness after Semenya’s world 800-meter win (tests later revealed that Semenya had internal testes, no ovaries or uterus, and high levels of testosterone). Only by doping, for which she was eventually caught, was Savinova able to beat Semenya and take the 800-meter gold at the 2012 Olympics.

Although generally less stark, hundreds of studies have demonstrated that racial differences in physique and athletic prowess are also vast. As Epstein asks in his book, try to think of the last white 100-meter gold medalist. Or a white cornerback in the NFL. Each trend goes back decades, but they are rarely noted.

Another author who does discuss them is Jon Entine, founder of the Genetic Literacy Project. In his  book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports And Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It, Entine references multiple studies showing that blacks enjoy numerous physical attributes that help them in competitive sports. Just like the differences between men and women, on average, blacks have longer arms and legs, a shorter trunk, narrower hips, and heavier bones. In particular, West African blacks—where America’s black majority are descend from—have more muscle, less fat, and higher testosterone compared to non-blacks.

NBA statistics show sizeable gaps between the two races in wingspan-to-height ratios: 6’7’’ with a wingspan of 6’10’’ for whites; 6’5½’’ with a 6’11’’ wingspan for blacks. The latter is shorter but longer. 

Studies show West African blacks, on average, have a larger percentage of fast-twitch fiber in their muscles, which helps in activities like sprinting and jumping. Generally, whites can jump straight up about 50 percent of their height, but for blacks, it’s over 60. Quite simply, in sports where such attributes are awarded, West African blacks are genetically privileged.

Then there are East African blacks like the Kenyans described above. As Entine writes, they generally have a larger lung capacity than whites (as well as West African blacks) and process oxygen more efficiently. They also do not suffer as much from lactic acid buildup in their muscles and are, therefore, less susceptible to fatigue.

Kenyan runners, especially those from the storied Kalenjin region, have around a pound less weight in their lower legs. As studies have shown, more leg weight means that runners have to burn more energy (and consume more oxygen) to keep pace. All of this is crucial when it comes to distance running.

Anthropologist Vincent Sarich once used cross country championship results to calculate that Kenyan runners outperformed all other nations by 1,700-fold and that about 80 of every 1 million Kenyan men had top competitive talent compared to 1 of every 20 million men in the rest of the world. Again, such a vast level of outperformance is largely shaped by genetic privilege.

These genetic advantages that blacks have can also be disadvantageous. For instance, people with slow-twitch muscle fibers, which whites have more of than West Africans, tire less easily and are better suited for distance running. Also, whites have a lower center of mass compared to West Africans—their navels are three inches lower on average, which is more advantageous for swimming (remember this when you see articles decrying the “systemic racism” in U.S. swimming associations). Additional disadvantages blacks face in swimming include their heavier bones, less fat, and lower lung capacity, which may help explain why black smokers are more prone to lung cancer.

What is the evolutionary explanation for these differences? Around ten percent of U.S. blacks have a sickle-cell gene mutation which has been posited to lead to greater fast-twitch muscle growth. It is believed the mutation evolved as a way to protect against the malaria that is rife in that part of the world. An evolutionary explanation for longer limb length is that it dissipates heat more efficiently.

Epstein and Entine acknowlege that biological diversity between racial groups could be far better understood. Each note the area has become too taboo for researchers to obtain the needed funding from educational and governmental institutions. Epstein interviewed numerous academics who must fund their own work and relegate it to a free-time pursuit. Such a conspiracy of silence on the part of the medical and scientific community is hugely unfortunate, and one wonders of the negative consequences resulting from what is, in essence, a manufactured lack of biological understanding. “To disregard monumental public health issues is to be morally bankrupt,” writes Entine.

Sex differences in athletics, however, eclipse racial ones, so activists like Riley Gaines should not simply “suck it up.” And while it could be said that critics are hypocritical for pointing out one set of genetic endowments but not others, liberals have and will continue to stigmatize biological differences and the evolution of the sexes just as they have already done with race. For science, safety, and fairness, the Left cannot be allowed to control the narrative. 

The Right needs to grasp these biological facts and their evolutionary basis, as they can use them to jujitsu the supposedly “rationalist” and “pro-science” Left. After all, many within the liberal camp are simply there because they bristle at being called “conservative” due to its not wholly unfair associations with “knuckle-dragging troglodytes.” These types want to be part of the perceived intellectual smart-set which is progressing toward the right side of history, an insecurity conservatives can exploit. By increasing their understanding in evolutionary biology and stigmatizing the stigmatizers as faith-driven promoters of scientific illiteracy, the Right can gain more broad-based support and make headway in the war over biological males in female sports.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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