In the recent firing of “Jimmy the Greek,” CBS explained its action in a “terse statement,” decrying racism. (What they meant by this is anyone’s guess. I ban the word racism in my introductory sociology class, not because there are no barriers to black advancement but because the word itself is a barrier to the serious thought that is required in any struggle against injustice.) Now, it may be naive to expect rigor from television executives whose idea of bringing the news to the people is a teaser on a moronic 4:45 game show, informing us that “U.S. and USSR Go to War; Winner at 5:00.” But even by television standards, an “explanation” that explains nothing is not adequate. If Jimmy the Greek deserved firing, both he and we deserve to know precisely what he is being fired for.

Among the offensive claims made by Jimmy the Greek (JTG), the most important is the empirical claim that, whatever the cause (hereditary, environmental, or some feedback combination of the two), blacks are better athletes than whites. This is so obviously true of a group that comprises 10 percent of the population and from three to eight times that percentage in the major sports, that only an ideologue could deny it.

In the case of baseball, a black player must be considerably better than a white to earn a place on a majorleague team: position-by-position, the stats of black players are considerably better than whites. This implies, as some blacks argue, that some blacks are passed over in favor of less talented whites. Otherwise, the overrepresentation of blacks in baseball would be even greater. The same is probably true in the other sports.

JTG also claimed that the superior black performance has a hereditary basis. Unpopular as this view may be, it is almost certainly correct. The precise nature of the black physiological advantage has been only partially determined, but we don’t have to know the precise mechanism responsible for an aptitude or behavior. Even in primitive societies, in which understanding of physiological mechanisms is nil, everyone knows that men are taller than women and that this is not merely because men are encouraged to eat more.

The less environment plays a role in athletic performance, the greater the black superiority. Long before blacks were permitted entry commensurate with their skill, it was recognized that the event for which training had the least effect was the 100-meter dash; this event is a measure of inherent speed, and there is much less that one can do to improve the performance of a top sprinter than there is to improve the performance of a marathon runner or baseball player. I do not know the current statistics, but I have been told that a few years ago 48 of the top 50 American 100-meter sprinters were black, and the 49th had one black parent. It is simply absurd to attempt to explain black superiority in sprinting as the result of poverty. Many groups have been poor, and while environmental factors such as economic opportunity, ambition, and the like have accounted for a somewhat disproportionate athletic success of the poor, poor whites have never displayed comparable advantages. Black basketball players are not wonderful rebounders because they were told as children, “You’d better jump, jump, jump, or you’ll never escape the ghetto.” Blacks are better jumpers because their physiology makes them better jumpers. They utilize and nurture this advantage by selecting sports that are both available to them and likely to take them out of the ghetto.

Of course, everybody knows that when we compare the athletic prowess of blacks and whites, we are only speaking statistically; there are many exceptions. It is clear, however, from a recent New York Times column by Tom Wicker, that this obvious point cannot be made too often. On the one side are the 80 percent of professional basketball players who are black; on the other is Larry Bird. For Wicker, Bird’s success proves that it’s all environmental. We could ask Wicker if there is any conceivable evidence that would change his mind. The answer implied by his column is no. (He probably also believes that the existence of 6’6″ women proves that men are taller than women only because of sexist bias in our culture.)

JTG’s most controversial claim—slaves had been bred for physical superiority—was probably the last straw for CBS. Some such breeding probably did occur. More important, less formal social practices may have played an equivalent role, but on the whole, the “slave-breeding” thesis is wildly improbable. Besides, the athletic ability of Africans of the groups from which American blacks are descended seems equal to that of American blacks.

Jimmy Snyder also suggested that black underrepresentation in coaching represents discrimination. It is not clear what JTG used as his criterion, but the dearth of blacks in coaching and managing positions in professional sports may well be the result of discrimination. Since most coaches are former players, most people would expect roughly the same percentage of black coaches as black players. Anything less has been decried as discrimination. It is probably more reasonable to define discrimination at a point below the black percentage of players, but well above the percentage of blacks in the general population. Since the percentage of black coaches and managers in professional football and baseball is well below the percentage of blacks in the population (and not much above it in a professional basketball league, 80 percent of whose players are black), JTG could make a good case in claiming discrimination against blacks on the coaching and managerial levels.

No one would claim that Jimmy the Greek is a beacon of intelligence or master of tact. But if these were requirements for television, we’d still be listening to the radio. The basic fact here is that JTG was pretty much correct in everything he said, save for his incorrectly seeing a close cause and effect connection between black athletic superiority and the conditions of slavery. From a scientific point of view, JTG’s statements are far more defensible than his “predictions” on who would cover the point spread. The fact that his “predictions” were as loosely worded and incapable of proof as an astrology chart did not bother CBS in the slightest.

The fact is that there is nothing in what Jimmy the Greek said to justify the mindless and sanctimonious response it has elicited. Most of what he said was basically correct, and none of it was insulting to blacks. There was no justification for dismissal, even by those who are willing to deny truths that hurt someone’s feelings. The outrage of CBS executives has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with their fear of any controversy that might threaten profits.