No Such Nonsense

A little of this, that and... what was I talking about again? It's TV, sports, pop culture and politics - all the stuff that really matters in life.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Race and the NBA

Race and sports. It's always been a hot button issue - particularly in the States where race issues tend to run a bit hotter than they do in Canada. Here, our biggest issues tend to be whether star ballers have been pulled over in their fancy SUVs for DWB (Driving While Black) or whether Team Canada captain Shane Doan once pointed out the preponderance of French-speaking refs in Montreal in a less-than-friendly manner.

In the States, race in sports has long been a powder keg. Jackie Robinson - the first black man to play on a Major League Baseball team - faced death threats. So did Tiger Woods, who, incidentally, would still be denied membership at scores of all-white golf clubs across the country. For years, until Kordell Stewart and Warren Moon and Doug Williams changed perceptions, a black quarterback was a rarity; absurd as it seems, some argued that black players just didn't have the goods, mentally speaking, to be the pivot. The same argument has been made -in public no less - to explain why there have traditionally been so few black coaches and managers. The success of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith has hopefully done away with that little chestnut of untruth too.

But racism runs deep - some argue it is innate and unknown in all of us to some degree - and has effects we would never have anticipated. A new paper, written up in the New York Times, explores just one aspect of this - the effect of race on officiating in the NBA. The upshot of the argument is this: white referees call a disproportionately high number of fouls on black players and, to a lesser extent, vice versa.

I stumbled across the article on the Freakonomics Blog, where Levitt and Dubner provide a general endorsement of the science behind the piece and a bit of explanation. Levitt points to a piece on where they do "a nice job of putting the magnitude of the bias into perspective: the coefficient estimates imply that if LeBron James faced only white refs the whole season relative to having only black refs the whole season, he would be expected to run up an extra 11 or 12 fouls over the course of the season and score about .3 fewer points per game." Not huge, but multiply that by a team, or by a league, or by a career. It's pretty significant. But what does it mean. Do white refs favour white players, or disfavour blacks? And for black refs, which is it?

And is it just basketball?

You could do the same study in the NHL - except, wait, are there any black officials in the NHL? Hmm. Maybe we should look at those Francophone Montreal refs instead.


  • At 3:50 p.m., Blogger Marky Mark said…

    That really does put it in perspective (the magnitude) but it's still a bad thing even if done unconsciously.

    So are you signing the Doan petition? ;)

  • At 11:45 a.m., Blogger Jenster said…

    I tend to agree with Damien Cox ( Where were the politicians when I had to watch Todd Bertuzzi donning the White and Red?


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