Repost: Major, Jack, Willie and Warren

January 21, 2014

Huh. A bit surprised I never had occasion to repost this. Well, the conversation about the Ginther report and disparity in NIH Grant success reminded me of this.

Originally posted 03/23/09.



In the year 1899 an American cyclist won the world championship in the 1-mile track event. In those days, track cycling was what really mattered and cycling was a reasonably big deal. So this was an event in sport. An even bigger deal was the fact that Marshall “Major” Taylor (Wikipedia) was black. This fact was, likewise, important:

The League of American Wheelmen, then the governing body for the sport, banned blacks from amateur racing in 1894, just as bicycling’s popularity surged.

The “colored cyclone,” as the newspapers called him, competed fiercely on the national circuit in 1897 but had to abandon the quest for sprint points champion when Southern race promoters refused him entry.
Hostility from white riders had gone from conspiratorial race tactics to threats to physical assault. One time a competitor pulled Taylor from his bike and choked him into unconsciousness. Some of the press condemned the racist treatment Taylor received, but some articles suggested he was to blame, saying white riders were understandably angered by his racing prowess and his failure to keep in his place.



Between the years 1908-1915, Arthur John “Jack” Johnson (Wikipedia) was the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world. For those of you who grew up with, or only know of, the likes of Ali, Foreman (twice!), Sugar Ray, Tyson, Holyfield… the fact that Johnson was black will be no big deal. Back in the early 1900s it was a different story:

By 1902, Johnson had won at least 50 fights against both white and black opponents. Johnson won his first title on February 3, 1903, beating “Denver” Ed Martin over 20 rounds for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship. His efforts to win the full title were thwarted as world heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries refused to face him. Blacks could box whites in other arenas, but the world heavyweight championship was such a respected and coveted position in America that blacks were not deemed worthy to compete for it. Johnson was, however, able to fight former champion Bob Fitzsimmons in July 1907, and knocked him out in two rounds.
Sydney Stadium during the Johnson-Burns match on December 26, 1908.
He eventually won the world heavyweight title on December 26, 1908, when he fought the Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match.

WillieORee.jpgMost of you will be familiar with what happened in baseball on April 15, 1947 (1889 to 1947, my friends. long time.) but are perhaps unfamiliar with the events of January 18, 1958. On this august occasion, one Willie Eldon O’Ree (Wikipedia) debuted with the Boston Bruins (yay!) against the much detested Montreal Canadiens (boo!). As it turned out, O’Ree did not go on to have a stellar career at the top ranks but he did play in the minor leagues until the ripe old age of 43. Do I even have to mention this?

O’Ree played just one more game in the NHL that first season before he returned to the minors. He made it back for the 1960-61 season, and that’s when he began to understand the difference his skin color made, in particular to fans and opponents in America. Trips to New York, Detroit and Chicago were the worst, as he played through slurs, taunts and threats.
“In the penalty box, stuff would be thrown at [me], and they’d spit at me,” O’Ree says, his voice even, and his memory clear. “I never fought one time because of racial remarks. I fought because guys butt-ended me and speared me and cross-checked me. But I said, ‘If I’m going to leave the league, it’s because I don’t have the skills or the ability to play anymore. I’m not going to leave it ’cause some guy makes a threat or tries to get me off my game by making racial remarks towards me.'”

Man. Things kinda sucked back then if you were a sports fan, didn’t they? I mean, sports is all about the excellence of competition. Any comers, all comers…knowatimsayin? Glad we left all that nonsense behind long before I became a sports fan.
WarrenMoonEdEskimos.jpgHmm. You know, I once watched a Rose Bowl in which an undersized mediocre looking, but nevertheless competent, quarterback did a decent job of not losing too badly to his opposition. Faint praise right? Well, homie went on to a NFL pro career and made tons of cash while being, well, still kinda mediocre. Back in the 1978 Rose Bowl, however, fans were lucky enough to watch one Warren Moon (Wikipedia) of the UW Huskies whup up on the U. Mich Wolverines (boo!). Of course, even for some third rate collegiate bowl game, the fans were lucky to have him.

He was recruited by a number of colleges, but some wanted to convert Moon to another position as was the norm for many major colleges recruiting black high school quarterbacks.[9] Moon decided to attend West Los Angeles College in 1974-75 where he was a record-setting quarterback. After Moon showed his ability at West L.A., only a handful of four-year colleges showed interest in signing him. Offensive Coordinator Dick Scesniak [University of Washington], however, was eager to sign the rifle-armed Moon.

…oh, for chrissakes! People. This was the 1970s!!! Oh yeah, that’s right. I remember those days. Black players can’t be quarterback, you see. Don’t have the right shoulder structure, it’s a genetic thing doncha know. Plus, they aren’t as good at all that, you know, quarterbacking stuff….
Come to think of it, I seem to recall some weebag Div I hockey player (who never ended up going anywhere professionally) writing some paper about how black people’s hip structure precluded them from skating very well. (Or, skating like gangbusters and then fixing, oh, knees and hips for a living as an orthopedic surgeon)
Sorry. Back to the point. Oh yes. Warren Moon. Back to the Wikipedia:

Throughout his CFL career, Moon amassed 1,369 completions on 2,382 attempts (57.4 completion percentage) for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdown passes. He also led his team to victory in 9 of 10 postseason games. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Edmonton Eskimos Wall of Honour. In 2006, he was ranked fifth on a list of the greatest 50 CFL players presented by Canadian sports network TSN.

Not to shabby for a guy thought physically and mentally incapable of playing the quarterback position because of his skin color, right? Pretty decent.
What? What’s that you say? There’s more? Oh, riiiiigghht. That Warren Moon. The one who next jumped to the NFL and played from 1984-2000 as one of the more exciting quarterbacks to take the field,

Combining his NFL and CFL stats, Moon’s numbers are nearly unmatched in professional football annals: 5,357 completions in 9,205 attempts for 70,553 yards and 435 touchdowns. Even if his Canadian League statistics are discounted, Warren Moon’s career is still exceptional: 3,988 completions for 49,325 yards, 291 touchdown passes, 1,736 yards rushing, and 22 rushing touchdowns. During his NFL career, Warren Moon was named to nine Pro Bowl games (1988-1995, 1997).

I’m just getting going…
Alright. There’s really not much point in going on and on to list Owens and Ashe and Gibson and the Williamses and Ribbses and Woods and Jones and all the other great athletes who thrilled (or continue to thrill) us with their class, competence and courage. Little point in detailing for each case where and when the operating rules of their sports (official and/or de facto) would have (or did..or still do) prevent them from excelling because of their skin color. Not much profit in describing how the overt bigotry of “they can’t do it” papered over the fear that someone might be better than the rest of us. Silly to talk about the moral repugnance of categorically closing off the open field of play to some people just to benefit ourselves or those more like ourselves.
Because, you know, we’re beyond all that sort of thing now. And…this is a blog that is supposed to focus on science. And the conduct of science. Which is objective. The only goal is the discovery. Doncha know.
Talking about diversity and openness and all that is just whining. Until you show us, with data, how discovery is being impaired by any particular lack in diversity. With data. did I say that part yet? Because, you know, we’re about empirical science. Discovery. We couldn’t possibly learn any lessons without a prospective experiment…
Update 032509: Related post from Abel Pharmboy

10 Responses to “Repost: Major, Jack, Willie and Warren”

  1. sciencedude Says:

    Wow. Five days and not one response. Did you look at your dates? You start back in the 19th century, then the last convincing discrimination you discuss is about half a century ago. (Warren Moon seems to have done just fine despite the documented or undocumented racism you describe.) DM, you do realize we are well into the the 21st century now, right? I know that racism will exist at some level for a long time, and I can tell you from experience it is not always directed against non-whites. In the news I see ever more frequent examples of blacks and other (so-called) minorities in positions of wealth and power, e.g. on the news this evening was Kenneth Chenault, black CEO of American Express (my favorite rewards card). I readily agree that what happened in the past, particularly to blacks, was horrible, but how long do you use that as an excuse for racial preferences today?


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    I’m not in favor of the racial preferences that white people enjoy to this very day. That’s you, apparently. But the point of a history lesson is to show that things can change and how absurd it is to follow the conventional wisdom vis a vis “merit”.


  3. sciencedude Says:

    Can you tell me more about the preferences white people enjoy?


  4. Anonymous lurker Says:

    Sciencedude, if you really want an answer start by reading the excellent essay Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy Mcintosh.

    It is like getting an extra 0.25 or so points each, in the environment, investigator, and approach categories just for having a white-sounding male-sounding name. Reviewers certainly are not doing this intentionally, and the fact that you benefit from these deeply ingrained societal preferences does not mean that you are a bad person. It is uncomfortable to acknowedge privilege, but ignoring it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    You could start with actually reading Ginther, sciencedude


  6. sciencedude Says:

    A L, thanks for the link. Peggy McIntosh appears to write from a very privileged perspective. The idea that her 50 points of privilege applies to all whites and none of the points apply to blacks was profoundly ignorant even back in 1988 when it was written. As just one example among many, point 44: ” I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.” Have you looked through an average college course listing lately? This is not to suggest that some of her points are not true, but I don’t think that justifies blindly granting one group of people preferential treatment just because their appearance.
    DM, I have read Ginther. Without access to their raw data, it is obviously not possible to know whether they properly controlled for the variables they claim to have. But let’s assume they did. You apparently regard this as an example of a white preference, but again, this would be an example of a white, Asian, and Hispanic preference. Show me the evidence of biased/racist reviewers. I previously suggested a possible test. If bias is found, then let’s implement your suggestion to extend affirmative action to R01s. If not, lets start a program to help black applicants with their grantsmanship.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    let’s assume they did

    Yes, let’s. Out of curiosity is this your reluctant, foot dragging “let’s stipulate for argument’s sake but I don’t really believe it” response to every paper you read? No? Yes?

    this would be an example of a white, Asian, and Hispanic preference

    In some parts. There are aspects of the paper that show a bias against Asians, particularly ones who were not citizens when their doctorates were awarded.

    Show me the evidence of biased/racist reviewers

    Why? Again, the bias (and therefore the preference for the other) has been demonstrated. It is totally agnostic to the source of the bias to describe the existence of the disparity. And as I am clearly arguing, I think it equally irrelevant to the immediate, effective fix for the disparity to muck about with “the” causal factor. Furthermore, since it take very little brain power to deduce that this is likely the outcome of may combined factors, trying to attach blame a single causal factor before you believe it is an denialist tactic. A mere ploy to avoid admitting the disparity exists in the first place. Nice try, but no sale.

    If bias is found

    The bias has already been found. Again, nice try.

    lets start a program to help black applicants with their grantsmanship.

    The NIH is already doing this and I am, obviously, criticizing it. It’s a fine idea, indeed my blog is in good part dedicated to grantsmanship. But it is not by any means the whole solution. Better to ask why “grantsmanship” is needed for a given suspect class to succeed in a system that is supposed to be about the science, not the ability to write a grant application.


  8. sciencedude Says:

    Interesting, you seem to define “bias” as unequal outcome. You might want to pull out your dictionary.


  9. DrugMonkey Says:

    You might want to pull out your Science 101 text


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    You also might note that all of the most trivially google able definitions make my point- bias does not point to a mechanism or cause or intent of a disparity. It identifies one.


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