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View Full Version : Racial bias in NBA refereeing


wendersfan
05-02-07, 01:32 PM
I don't watch enough basketball these days to comment on that aspect of the study, but I thought this was pretty interesting anyway. This is IMO one of the unintended consequences of the best-seller <i>Freakonomics</i> - economists don't really want to study economics any more. Give them a large dataset of anything and they go nuts. :)

The abstract:The NBA provides an intriguing place to test for taste-based discrimination: referees and players are involved in repeated interactions in a high-pressure setting with referees making the type of split-second decisions that might allow implicit racial biases to become evident. Moreover, the referees receive constant monitoring, and feedback on their performance. (Commissioner Stem has claimed that NBA referees "are the most ranked, rated, reviewed, statistically analyzed and mentored group of employees of any company in any place in the world. ") The essentially arbitrary assignment of refereeing crews to basketball games, and the number of repeated interactions allow us to convincingly test for own-race preferences. We find that-even conditioning on player and referee fixed effects (and specific game fixed effects)--that more personal fouls are awarded against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race officiating crew than when officiated by an own-race refereeing crew. <i>These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, according to the racial composition of the refereeing crew</i>.(Emphasis mine)

A link to the article (.pdf format):

http://graphics.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/sports/20070501-wolfers-NBA-race-study.pdf

What does everyone think?

dx23
05-02-07, 01:52 PM
Aren't all NBA teams predominantly black?

darkside
05-02-07, 01:55 PM
This is all bullshit. There is favorable treatment, but it is typically towards star players. For the most part the refs baby the stars and they get away with things the lower tier players never could.

Flashback
05-02-07, 03:41 PM
Too funny.

DVD Josh
05-02-07, 07:51 PM
This is all bullshit. There is favorable treatment, but it is typically towards star players. For the most part the refs baby the stars and they get away with things the lower tier players never could.

Michael Jordan never walked or traveled. NEVER

TimJS
05-02-07, 08:27 PM
Even though I loathe Fox, this is a pretty good critique of the study...

http://msn.foxsports.com/nba/story/6767806?MSNHPHMA

TJS

Linn1
05-02-07, 10:28 PM
LOL, funny as hell. My guess is it might have something to do with there's perhaps (and this is being nice) ten white stars in the NBA? OF COURSE there's more fouls on black players! How can it be any different?

fumanstan
05-02-07, 10:45 PM
LOL, funny as hell. My guess is it might have something to do with there's perhaps (and this is being nice) ten white stars in the NBA? OF COURSE there's more fouls on black players! How can it be any different?

That's not what it's saying. It's saying white refs call more fouls on black players then black refs do, and vice versa; black refs call more fouls on white players.

Deftones
05-02-07, 10:49 PM
Aren't there more white refs than black ones?

fumanstan
05-02-07, 11:00 PM
Aren't there more white refs than black ones?

I think so. I'm too lazy to look at the actual PDF file, but hopefully they were smart enough to take that in to effect and at least work with averages rather then raw total numbers, since more white refs and more black players would naturally result in a higher number for that particular combination.

There's a lot more to take in to consideration, like superstars getting more calls, superstars being predominantly black, playing time split between teams that supposedly have more black players then white, and whatever.

Deftones
05-02-07, 11:06 PM
Yeah, seems awfully weak statistically when they didn't take into account any variables.

IMRICKJAMES
05-03-07, 04:41 AM
this is by far the worst conducted study ever. these schools should be embarassed and I hope it wasnt done on company time.

oooo you looked at BOX SCORES! BOX SCORES! and you jump to a conclusion like this!?!?! They didn't even watch games, know the situation in which the foul was called, or even know which ref was calling the fouls listed in the box score. Me thinks this study was just done to get their names in the papers.

FantasticVSDoom
05-03-07, 08:16 AM
This is all bullshit. There is favorable treatment, but it is typically towards star players. For the most part the refs baby the stars and they get away with things the lower tier players never could.
Exactly... One of the many reasons why I don't watch the NBA anymore.

You know, I definitely picked the wrong field. I should become an Economist and look into things that have nothing to do with my field and only study stuff I'm interested in. Then I can look for and take correlative data and create causal links between them.

wendersfan
05-03-07, 10:15 AM
Has anyone who is critical of the study actually read it? Not a summary, not an op-ed about it, but the actual study (all 40+ pages of it.)

DVD Josh
05-03-07, 11:46 AM
Has anyone who is critical of the study actually read it? Not a summary, not an op-ed about it, but the actual study (all 40+ pages of it.)

I don't think you realize the irony in your statement. This dude's study is based on BOX SCORES, meaning the SUMMARY of the game, not the actual game itself. It would be disingenuous to suggest that a criticism of the study should not be given the same merit as the study itself even if one's opinion is based merely on a summary or op-ed.

Mordred
05-03-07, 11:56 AM
ESPN pointed out that 2 of the top 3 players with the most PFs were white.

John Hollinger also had this bit, which obviously makes a lot of sense.
While we're talking about this [race and officiating] study, one other item in it drew my attention: the finding that during the 13-year study period, teams with the greater share of playing time by black players won 48.6 percent of games. The authors seemed to imply some kind of mild institutional racism against black players by this result.
In fact, there's a much more obvious explanation -- the league imported a bunch of talent from Europe during the study period, almost all of it white, and the poorly run teams were the last ones to figure out there were good players on other continents. Thus, by default they ended up with more black players on their rosters.

Look back on the drafts of the mid-to-late '90s and you'll see what I mean. Players like Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko were all basically stolen in the draft by smart, forward-thinking teams. That their teams won more games than average is an effect of their superior front offices, not the officiating.

Josh H
05-03-07, 12:10 PM
I don't think you realize the irony in your statement. This dude's study is based on BOX SCORES, meaning the SUMMARY of the game, not the actual game itself. It would be disingenuous to suggest that a criticism of the study should not be given the same merit as the study itself even if one's opinion is based merely on a summary or op-ed.

Pretty much all non-experimental studies are based on stuff like that.

i.e. studies of crime on official police data, etc.

Observational studies on secondary data can still be valid.

Lee Harvey Oswald
05-03-07, 12:59 PM
Were they counting black on black fouls? Were they counting fouls on Dwayne Wade? If they were counting fouls on Wade that could explain the high count.

wendersfan
05-03-07, 01:12 PM
Were they counting black on black fouls? Were they counting fouls on Dwayne Wade? If they were counting fouls on Wade that could explain the high count.Well, all fouls called in every NBA game played over a 13 year period were included in the dataset, so you figure it out. Given that, by the author's estimation, they had a sample of around 250,000 'player-games' (their main level of measurement) I have severe doubts that any single player could skew the results at all.

Jericho
05-03-07, 01:16 PM
I don't think you realize the irony in your statement. This dude's study is based on BOX SCORES, meaning the SUMMARY of the game, not the actual game itself. It would be disingenuous to suggest that a criticism of the study should not be given the same merit as the study itself even if one's opinion is based merely on a summary or op-ed.

I'm not sure what the problems is. From my understanding, the study looks for fouls calls of officials Why is there a need to look at the games? All you need is the end numbers. Now I suppose you'll say that each game is different, and it is. But given a large enough data set, the general variance of a paricular game is negated in the long-run. At least that's my guess on how the study works.

Now I can't speak to the study itself as I have not read it. It may be good or bad. But there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong with just looking at the data from box scores.

wendersfan
05-03-07, 01:23 PM
I'm not sure what the problems is. From my understanding, the study looks for fouls calls of officials Why is there a need to look at the games? All you need is the end numbers. Now I suppose you'll say that each game is different, and it is. But given a large enough data set, the general variance of a paricular game is negated in the long-run. At least that's my guess on how the study works.

Now I can't speak to the study itself as I have not read it. It may be good or bad. But there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong with just looking at the data from box scores.Also, the study isn't an analysis of basketball. It's an analysis of subconscious racial bias using decisions made by a closely monitored group (NBA refs) which impact a racially diverse population (NBA players.) Given the number of data points and the number of variables considered, being critical of the study without having read it is, well, kinda like being critical of Pat Riley's coaching tactics without ever having seen a basketball game, and instead by relying on on second hand reports by blind people who don't like the Miami Heat.

das Monkey
05-03-07, 02:41 PM
I haven't had time to read the entire study yet, but the one thing that sticks out as curious is that they do not know which ref called the foul. Is it possible that when there are two white refs and one black ref that the black guy calls more fouls on black players all of a sudden? Glancing through it, I didn't see such potentials addressed. The study seems interesting, and I do plan to read it when I have the time, but there are so many factors involved here and so many unknowns that I'm curious to see how they tried to account for it all. Chiefly, I'd submit that in general, black players have a different style of play from white players (in the modern game, the majority of white players who play long enough to be relevant in this study came from foreign countries). Are we looking at race-on-race bias or race-on-style bias? One thing that stuck me as interesting is that it appears white crews generally call fewer fouls on everyone, just at a lower rate for white players.

das

TimJS
05-03-07, 07:20 PM
Has anyone who is critical of the study actually read it?

Too be honest, no.

Did the FoxNews Sports writer misrepresent the study? That'd be like the 1st time that's ever happened on Fox :rolleyes: .

anyhoo, I will read it, just seemed like a poorly structured study. I would not be surprised in the least if the headline is true, I just assumed that a sportswriter wouldn't misrepresent a study. Stupid assumption on my part, I guess. Hafta be skeptical of the weatherman's political bias next.


TJS

PopcornTreeCt
05-04-07, 02:14 AM
All the media outlets are all pouncing on the survey calling it ridiculous, etc. Once people can admit that EVERYONE has a little bit of racial bias in them I think we can start moving forward as a country. Until then keep on playing the denial game.

IMRICKJAMES
05-04-07, 03:46 AM
All the media outlets are all pouncing on the survey calling it ridiculous, etc. Once people can admit that EVERYONE has a little bit of racial bias in them I think we can start moving forward as a country. Until then keep on playing the denial game.

What are you talking about. No one slamming the survey is trying to deny racism exists.

That doesnt make the survey valid. It still is completely ridiculous. They are looking at BOX SCORES. Box scores that dont even say what ref called what foul. So how on earth can the basis of the survey be that white refs call more fouls on blacks and black refs call more fouls on white when they DONT even know what ref is calling this foul and what ref called that foul. That Sir, is the definition of ridiculous.

RayChuang
05-04-07, 08:01 AM
All the media outlets are all pouncing on the survey calling it ridiculous, etc. Once people can admit that EVERYONE has a little bit of racial bias in them I think we can start moving forward as a country. Until then keep on playing the denial game.

ESPN/ESPN Radio are slamming the survey because everybody there felt the researchers "cherry picked" the data to get their conclusions. A far more accurate survey would have been to look at what each referee did during each game--something the NBA actually has done as part of their regular review of NBA referees.

DVD Josh
05-04-07, 08:35 AM
I'm not sure what the problems is. From my understanding, the study looks for fouls calls of officials Why is there a need to look at the games? All you need is the end numbers. Now I suppose you'll say that each game is different, and it is. But given a large enough data set, the general variance of a paricular game is negated in the long-run. At least that's my guess on how the study works.

Now I can't speak to the study itself as I have not read it. It may be good or bad. But there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong with just looking at the data from box scores.

Without knowing the totality of the circumstances, e.g., white refs calling fouls on black players or vice versa, or percentage of white ref calls on white players to black player, or the disparity of white vs. black players in the league, not to mention the little fact of whether there was ACTUALLY a found committed, this study doesn't meet the bare minimum of scientific objectivity.

dx23
05-04-07, 10:26 AM
This research/survey was done exactly as the Parents Television Council conducts theirs: from the end to the beggining. The have a statement, ex. nba refs are racist, prowrestling is bad for you, etc., and then contruct the questions and research based on that. The other thing is that these "researchers and staticians" don't have a clue on the field they are doing the research on. So they don't know what data is appropiate for the study and then boneheaded comments like the refs are racist come along. That is what happens in the age of mediocrity and overanalization.

IMRICKJAMES
05-04-07, 01:26 PM
I'm not sure what the problems is. From my understanding, the study looks for fouls calls of officials Why is there a need to look at the games? All you need is the end numbers. Now I suppose you'll say that each game is different, and it is. But given a large enough data set, the general variance of a paricular game is negated in the long-run. At least that's my guess on how the study works.

Now I can't speak to the study itself as I have not read it. It may be good or bad. But there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong with just looking at the data from box scores.

Here is the problem. You can't just look at the box scores, see who got fouls called and make a conclusion. You have to look at the games. Take 2 different games, if say Kobe Bryant had 4 fouls called against him one game by a white ref and 2 the next by a non white ref if you look at just the box score (like this study) than you conclude white refs are racists. If you look at the actual game you might see that Kobe deserved all 4 fouls, should have had less or should have had more. Watching the games you actually see what is going on, not just reading the results in a box score. Kobe could have had 4 one night and 2 the other night not because of the race of the ref but because of the aggressiveness of who he was defending. Theres so many other variables I can list that dont show up in the box score. Thats why you need to watch the games

Anyways, all that doesnt even matter for this study because the box scores they were looking at only listed the refs in the game not what ref called what fould. So they cant even make the conclusion they made. If a ref trio was 1 white and 2 blacks you cant tell if a call against a black player was made by the white ref or the black ref. It makes their conclusion completely invalid. End of discussion.

Mordred
05-04-07, 01:59 PM
I read the study and I think it's accurate, I'm just not sure if it has anything to do with racism.

For everyone complaining about box scores not telling you who called the foul, here's some data you can't complain about.

Games refed by all black crew: Foul rate for black players 4.418, white players 5.245
Games refed by all white crew: Foul rate for black players 4.322, white players 4.897

All white ref crews definitely call less fouls on white players than all black crews. Since the dataset is relatively large, it definitely means something, whether that's what the authors conclude, I'm not sure. They list a number of controls in the data, but surpisingly don't control for number of years reffing in the league which might show some correleation.