Track star and four-time gold medalist Michael Johnson credited his success to a ”superior athletic gene” resulting from slavery of his West African descendants.
“All my life, I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations,” Johnson told the Daily Mail.
Johnson, who became the first man to win gold in both the 200- and 400-meter sprints in a single Olympics, makes the controversial comments in a documentary that airs Thursday night, according to the Daily News.
However, African History Professor at University of Virginia John Edward Mason found it “sad” Johnson felt this way.
“I don’t think he could be more wrong,” Mason said about Johnson’s comments. “It’s just not the case that slavery did anything good for the descendants of slaves and it certainty had nothing to do with genetic selection. That’s just bad biology.”
He said economic barriers do not allow African-Americans to put their children in some sporting activities such as swimming, golf and tennis. He also acknowledged some Blacks prefer to play different sports over others.
“Think of pro baseball 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. The greatest players were African-American. If you look at pro baseball today, you see far fewer African-Americans playing professional baseball and you say ‘What happened? Did we suddenly lose that gene?’ It’s a shift in what interest athletic young people and there just not going into baseball now.”
As far as for being a sprinter, which Johnson is, Mason said the cost is little and the sport is welcomes African- American athletes because many participate in the sport already.
Referring back to Johnson’s comments, Mason pointed out African Americans survived slavery because of their cleverness, courage and commitment rather than physical strength, such as Harriet Tubman, who is known for the establishment of the Underground Railroad and freeing slaves in the south through the passageway.
“What do we know about tricksters?” Mason joked. “They survive with their wits, not their strength.”
Read next week’s issue for more on the community’s reaction to Johnson’s statement.