This week a new report was released arguing that unconscious racism from NBA refs led Black players to have more fouls called against them. Working with a huge data set, the researchers from U Penn and Cornell also showed a decrease in “points, rebounds and assists, and a rise in turnovers, when players performed before primarily opposite-race officials.” Though the “opposite-race” language is more than a little troubling, the point stands: Playing while Black can cost you the game.
Their results suggested that for each additional Black starter a team had, relative to its opponent, a team’s chance of winning would decline from a theoretical 50 percent to 49 percent and so on, a concept mirrored by the game evidence: the team with the greater share of playing time by Black players during those 13 years won 48.6 percent of games — a difference of about two victories in an 82-game season. “Basically, it suggests that if you spray-painted one of your starters white, you’d win a few more games,” Mr. Wolfers said.
I don’t follow sports – at all – but the report caught my interest because it shows how racism is deeply internalized and often invisible. I’d love to believe that only people who go on national radio and degrade a prominent women’s sports team harbor racist animosity, but it’s simply not the case. If you asked the referees, or even the cops who put 50 bullets in Sean Bell, if they resent Black people they would deny it; and most likely they’d be telling the truth as they know it. But this study shows, again, that racism informs our actions even when we’re not dropping an N* bomb or committing a hate crime. Don’t Believe It? See for yourself. This is a test by Harvard University that measures what you think your biases are against the implicit associations you make without thinking. It’s pretty interesting. Try it out.