Multiracial Tiger Woods
Thursday, 5 April 2001 18:04 (ET)
By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent LOS ANGELES, April 5 (UPI) -- The Census Bureau's announcement that 2.4 percent of Americans call themselves multiracial has cast a spotlight on mixed-race people. It's only fitting, therefore, that the eyes of the world are focused on the Masters golf tournament starting Thursday, where the most famous multiracial individual, Tiger Woods, is attempting to win a record-setting fourth straight professional major championship. When Woods became a superstar to even the non-golfing world by winning the 1997 Masters tournament by 12 strokes, much of the media wanted to define him as the first "black" to win a major championship. And Nike wanted to do with him what it does best -- market him as another black super-jock. But Tiger refused to sell out his family's multiracial roots. He joked that he thought of himself as "Cablinasian." That was his boyhood shorthand for the fact that he is one-eighth Caucasian, one-quarter black, one-eighth American Indian, and one-half East Asian (a quarter Thai and a quarter Chinese). Both of Woods' parents are thoroughly multiracial, too. His father Earl is half black, one-quarter American Indian, and one-quarter Chinese. His mother Kultida is half Thai, one-quarter Chinese, and one quarter European. They met in her native Thailand during the Vietnam War when Lt. Col. Woods was with the Green Berets. Although golf doesn't require aerobic endurance, it does demand an unusual mixture of power and delicacy. Further, pro golfers need so much control over their emotions that few before Woods fulfilled their potential before their 30s. Thus, golf's great champions -- men like Bobby Jones, Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus -- have tended to be formidable gentlemen, on and off the links. Jones, for example, never went to law school, but passed the bar exam by studying on his own. He argued frequently before the Supreme Court. Hogan, despite being nearly permanently crippled in a 1949 car crash, came back dramatically to win U.S. Opens in 1950, 1951, and 1953. Palmer and Nicklaus have built themselves business empires and have designed many fine golf courses. At only 25, Woods has a way to go to rank with these greats. Yet he already radiates a palpable sense that he's not just the best athlete to ever play professional golf, and the most glamorous, but that he's also one of these superior individuals. And thus it's time to confront the question that's been whispered about him ever since this Mozart-like prodigy first appeared on television as a 3-year-old playing golf with Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart: Does being multiracial give Tiger a genetic advantage? Until recent decades, that query was unthinkable. "Miscegenation" was assumed to be the royal road to racial ruin. But now we have enough scientific evidence to answer with a resounding "maybe." There is practically no evidence that interracial parentage hurts offspring, and modest amount of evidence that it might actually help. The opposite of Tiger's famously out-marrying family tree are the inbred genealogies found notoriously often among hillbillies and aristocrats. Berkeley psychometrician Arthur Jensen, who has published 400 articles on intelligence in scientific journals, reports that inbreeding reduces "birth weight, height, head circumference, chest girth, and resistance to infectious diseases." These unfortunate side effects are the result of the inbred being more likely to inherit two copies of deleterious recessive genes. Incest is so genetically disastrous that humans appear to have evolved a defense against it: Children brought-up together before the age of 6 almost never grow up to be sexually attracted to each other. For example, many an Israeli kibbutz tried raising toddlers in mixed-sex dormitories, only to find later that none of its young people wanted to marry each other. But milder forms of inbreeding are also detrimental. Marriages between first cousins, so common among the crowned heads of Europe, tend to reduce IQ by 7 to 10 points, according to 14 different studies. (As Shakespeare possibly should have said, "Empty lies the head that wears the crown.") Since there are no hard and fast boundaries between extended families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups or races, a tendency to inbreed can eventually sap towns and even peoples. For example, economist Thomas Sowell suggests that one reason why first-generation Italian immigrants were so much shorter than their descendents was because the mountainous terrain of Southern Italy made going courting outside one's own home village too exhausting. Fortunately, the inbred sins of the fathers don't have to be visited upon the children. Simply marrying somebody from the next valley over will eliminate most of this "inbreeding depression" in your kids. Over the last 150 years, the invention of trains, bicycles, cars and planes has allowed young people to roam more widely in search of love. This has given our genes a healthy airing out. In sports, inbreeding hurts horseracing because all thoroughbreds are required to be descended from just three Arabian stallions and 20 English mares. Thus, despite enormous sums invested in eugenic breeding, no recent thoroughbred has challenged the times set by Secretariat way back in 1973. In contrast, mongrel quarter horses continue to get faster. On the other hand, while inbreeding depression clearly hurts, the evidence for "hybrid vigor" among multiracial individuals is less clear, since the returns from outbreeding diminish fairly rapidly the farther out you marry from your own inbred clan. Stanford population geneticist L.L. Cavalli-Sforza found that while inbreeding was a problem in villages in the mountains of Italy, it fell off rapidly in towns in valleys, and faded greatly in the cities of the plains. That's because the flatter the terrain, the easier it is to take a spouse from farther from your family's ancestral abode. So, most of the disadvantages of inbreeding can be overcome without marrying interracially. Still, interracial marriage is the surest cure for inbreeding. That may explain a study that highly impressed Jensen. It was a careful 1986 analysis by C.T. Nagoshi and R.C. Johnson of biracial white-Japanese children in Hawaii compared to monoracial peers of the same socio-economic status. They were given 15 highly diverse tests of mental abilities. The biracial children scored higher on 13 of the 15. For the crucial "general factor" of intelligence, the biracial children were measured at the 60th percentile compared to the 50th percentile for the monoracial control group. It's also possible that multiracial individuals are more likely to inherit unusual combinations of traits, which might give some of them an advantage at sports requiring talents that are normally conflicting. Although American sports fans love to talk about racial differences in sports ability, writing about it has been frowned upon. Still, Jon Entine's recent book "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It" summarizes the large amount of scientific data suggesting that different racial groups have different strengths and weaknesses in sports. For example, athletes of West African descent tend to possess more of the fast-twitch muscle fibers conducive to explosive strength, which help account for their superior performances in basketball, football, and sprinting. Over the last five Olympics, for example, men of West African background have comprised all 40 finalists in the men's 100-meter dash. In contrast to a simple sport-like sprinting, however, golf requires a variety of contradictory talents, which no single race seems to have a monopoly on. For example, Tiger Woods combines the explosive muscularity and masculine charisma of black superstars with the precision and emotional control of the finest Asian-American athletes. Of course, just as Woods possesses what are probably the best golf genes yet seen, the genetic diversity generated by interracial marriage means that multiracial individuals would also be more likely to occasionally exhibit the worst combination of genes for golf. Similarly, mixed race athletes seem to do well in the decathlon, which combines 10 highly distinct track and field events. Three of the last six Olympic decathlon gold medals went to champions with black fathers and white mothers: Daley Thompson in 1980 and 1984 and Dan O'Brien in 1996. In individual events, blacks of West African descent tend to do best in the sprints, while whites tend to do better at the 1500 meters and throwing events. Perhaps, Thompson and O'Brien happened to get the best decathlon genes from both sides of the families. Likewise, the term "slugging shortstop" is generally a contradiction in baseball terms, since nimbleness and power are generally at odds. That's why the player with the biggest contract in sports is Alex Rodriguez, the $252 million man. The second most lavish contract, $189 million, is held by his friend and rival, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. Both men are light beige in color. Jeter's has a black father and white mother. Rodriguez is a Dominican-American "mulatto" of mixed Spanish and West African descent. In summary, inter-racial marriage, long the object of fear and loathing, may turn out to be one route to enriching the human race. -- Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.