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Study Finds Racial Bias in NBA Officiating

May 02, 2007 10:22 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A recent study of NBA players’ statistics suggests that referees call more fouls on players of a different race than themselves, prompting the NBA to issue a fierce refusal of these findings and raising the broader issue of racism in professional sports.

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NBA officiating is racially biased, according to a recent academic report.

University of Pennsylvania assistant professor Justin Wolfers and Cornell University graduate student Joseph Price have completed a study that they say reveals a racial bias in how referees officiate professional basketball games.

By analyzing every game’s box score over a 13-season period through 2004, the two men found that the racial composition of the officiating crew influenced foul calls by up to 4.5 percent.

The NBA has criticized the study, refuting it with a study of its own that NBA commissioner David Stern said is “more powerful, more robust, and demonstrates that there is no bias.”

However, the NBA recently offered Wolfers the chance to review the data they’ve collected, and he contends that it only confirms his original findings.

The study stresses that it does not imply intentional racial bias, but should be seen as part of a growing body of studies examining elements of subconscious racism known as “implicit association.”

Whether the report finds credence in the athletic community or not, the controversy’s drawn renewed attention to the racial history of professional sports, even as baseball finishes celebrating Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier.




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Jackie Robinson broke the color professional baseball’s color barrier in 1947. On April 15, 2007 baseball celebrated the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s momentous achievement by inviting players all over the country to where his famous number 42.

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