Sports Outside the Beltway


A few weeks ago, Colossus of Rhodey.Hube reported on a recent study that finds that NBA referees are – prejudiced. Not in any conscious way mind you. He even proposes a solution to the problem.

Hey, let’s apply an education “solution” to the NBA problem here: Multicultural training for all NBA referees. [White] refs need to realize that what may be a foul in white culture isn’t necessarily a foul in black culture. After all, since blacks tend to play more “street ball” when growing up, that kind of play tends to be more “freelance,” hence a bit “rougher.” Fouls aren’t called as often. Therefore, white refs need to consider this before blowing the whistle against a [black] player.

Kidding aside, one question is how the league will deal with the problem? How will those diverse front offices deal with the challenge before them? That’s right, on the heels of the study showing that the league’s refs are (unconsciously) biased came another study showing that the league front offices are the most diverse in all of sports. As Richard Lapchik an author of that study writes:

We correctly laud the progress made by the NFL with its recent head coaching hires. However, 40 percent of the head coaches in the NBA are African-American, and that’s more than double the percentage of any other league. At the end of last season, the New York Giants hired Jerry Reese, giving the NFL a total of five African-Americans in positions the NFL says are the equivalent to general managers (some teams use titles like VP for player personnel). By contrast, there were eight African-American general managers in the NBA when the regular season ended last month.Many celebrate the fact that two African-American head coaches faced each other in the 2007 Super Bowl — the Colts’ Tony Dungy and the Bears’ Lovie Smith. That happened in the NBA’s counterpart to the Super Bowl — the NBA Finals — all the way back in 1975 when K.C. Jones and the Washington Bullets met Al Attles and the San Francisco Warriors for the league championship. To date, four African-American head coaches have won NBA titles: Attles, Jones, Russell and Lenny Wilkens. Through the end of this season, the league has had 53 African-American head coaches. Major League Baseball is a distant second with a history that includes 25 managers of color, including African-Americans and Latinos.

So Lapchik plays down the referee issue:

So in that big-picture context, the possibility of an officiating bias based on race seems less consequential. Thirty-six percent of the referees in the NBA this season were either Latino or African-American, which puts the NBA far ahead of any other sport in that area. Is it possible that white referees make more calls against African-American players? Wolfers says it is more than a possibility. If he is right, his study tells us as much about society as it does about the NBA because there are so many other areas where this sort of “taste-based discrimination” happens, such as corporate executives making hiring and promotion decisions, or police officers, prosecutors and judges making decisions in which preconceived images may play a role in their “calls.”

To Lapchik, it’s not an NBA problem; it’s society’s problem.

In his post on the study of officiating bias, Colossus of Rhodey.Hube joked about the paucity of white players in the NBA. That’s because the way players are hired is based on merit even though the result is that a disproportionate number of of African Americans are hired to play the game. (Believe it or not, once upon a time, the NBA was a very Jewish league.)

But perhaps one of the reasons race relations are still an issue in society is not the subtle unconscious discriminations but that fact that we have people whose job it is to study diversity. Given that it’s their field of study, they need to validate their existence and maintain that problems still exist. Once gains in diversity are accepted unconsciously instead of being heralded self-consciously race will be much less of a contentious issue.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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