Quick Response to Camp on “Racial Discrimination by Referees”

by robekulick

I’m not sure if people actually look at the comments on this thing, so to give this post some context I’ll just copy Camp’s post:

“So I read this very quickly and I agree it’s likely very possible that refs are racially biased. However, I would think most of the bias would revolve around “Star Status.” For example, every time Kobe Bryant gets touched a foul is called, however, he mauls people all the time and never gets called. Everything Josh Beckett throws is a strike and anything someone on the KC Royals pitching staff throws is a ball.

I would also think the fact that most umps and refs are middle aged to old white men and most NBA/MLB players are African American or Latin American. There are hardly any white american basketball players and white baseball players usually suck.

Anything to say about either of those?”

On the first comment, those studies certainly weren’t an exhaustive study of the sources of referee error. I took a quick look around, but didn’t find any statistical analyses addressing Camp’s point. But NBA referees are employees of the NBA so I think from an economic theory perspective, there certainly is some incentive to referee games in a way that increases fan excitement. Since the athletic feats of star players are the major draw of professional sports it would be unsurprising to me.

As to the second part of the post, a quick review of this page that has pictures of the NBA referees:

http://www.basketball-refs.com/

convinced me that there are substantial number of African American referees, so I don’t think one can say with any certainty what dynamic is responsible for the findings in the NBA study. But assuming, and I emphasize assuming, for a moment that Camp is correct that the discrimination is caused by white referees making calls on black players and assuming that he is correct that star players, who are mostly black, have fewer fouls called on them it is still easy to explain these findings: the discrimination is mostly burdening the average to below-average African-American players.

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