Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for May 5th, 2007

White men can’t jump, but maybe they don’t have to

Posted by digglahhh on 5 May 2007

The New York times reports on a paper written by Justin Wolfers and Joseph Price, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor and a Cornell graduate student, respectively. The paper has yet to be published or peer reviewed. It claims that, in the NBA, white referees call fouls on black players at a higher rate than they do against white players. It also notes a reciprocal but weaker relationship between black officials and white players. The study covers thirteen seasons worth of data and attempts to control for an inordinate amount of variables, including just about all of the ones that first popped into my head when thinking about potential problems with such a study.

The idea of implicit racial associations playing a role in how we view sports and athletes is not only not new to me, I’ve been arguing on this behalf for years. I was recently involved in not one, but two, on-line discussions started by fellows who believe that modern baseball players who wear baggy uniform pants and/or slightly tilted caps disrespect the game with their “sloppiness” and “unprofessional” appearance. Beyond the notion that “professionalism” is a social construct, I was struck by the historical ignorance these statements. (This was a forum for baseball junkies, after all.)

See, baseball heroes of yesteryear wore baggy pants and tilted hats. The Hall of Fame is full of them. Many of the actual plaques of old-time Hall of Famers even depict the player wearing a crooked hat. Oh yeah, old time ballplayers were white.

One of the members dryly noted, after a series of photos of old time players in baggy pants and cocked caps:

“You also have to remember that the players back then were white so it was okay. Nowadays minority athletes are doing it so it is bad.”

The concept of implicit racial association is simple; you are subconsciously conditioned to associate positive characteristics with light skin and negative characteristics with dark skin. This is not an indictment of the person who makes such an association as a racist; but simply a statement of race’s place in how we are conditioned to think. Still, in knee-jerk fashion, people categorically deny that race informs their decisions and opinions.

The NBA’s reaction to these allegations didn’t really surprise me. It claims no racial bias in its officiating, and it claims it has done its own studies to support their claim. Maybe the NBA is right, but their officials are social beings like the rest of us. To be sure, more than a few league officials and players deny the phenomenon, but a conscious denial of a subconscious relationship is just what you’d expect. Notably, two black coaches declined to comment.

A racial bias could have real implications in terms of game outcomes. Wolfers notes:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in digglahhh, journalism, language, sports, Times-watch | 13 Comments »

By whose rules are we playing?

Posted by digglahhh on 5 May 2007

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY is an entity unto itself. It is certainly not affiliated with any legal system within the United States. It is not even operated by Major League Baseball. It governs itself and sets its own standards.

Barry Bonds is now a dozen or so homers from becoming the all-time leader. At his current pace, sometime around the All-Star break, he will overtake what is allegedly the most hallowed record in all of professional sports.

Bonds is a surly figure and his ongoing feud with the media has included tactics just as low as those of his chemically-induced assault on the record books. His antics have included bringing his son to the podium of a press conference to show the media “what they are doing to his family” and telling sports reporters they should be writing about cigarettes when they questioned the effect his steroid use might have on the health of our children. The media, for its part, has played dirty too, neglecting the omnipresence of cheating in baseball’s history, releasing confidential testimony, and painting Bonds as a racist super villain.

An article in today’s New York Times that initially seems to be about the upcoming investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball, lead by Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) , quickly turns to the subject of Barry Bonds and his pursuit of Aaron’s record. This is where the media perpetuates the witch hunt. The act of deceit is in the intent, not in the outcome. I don’t doubt that Bonds has taken myriad performance enhancing drugs, but he, unlike others, has never failed a test. Those who have actually failed tests face nowhere near the scrutiny that Bonds does. And why? Because on their best days they aren’t remotely similar to Bonds on a baseball diamond. It is predictable, but categorically unfair, that Bonds is at the center of this whole issue, not because he is the only player involved, but because he is the most successful player involved. For all the labeling of the media as “liberal,” they are primarily concerned about the bottom line when it comes to steroids and baseball being launched into orbit, giving dishonesty a pass if it doesn’t translate into performance.

The grand irony is that Barry Bonds is an immortal of the game, while many of those who failed tests in the past were fringe Major Leaguers. There’s a place in the game for Bonds regardless. It is some borderline middle reliever’s use of performance enhancing drugs that is keeping him in the bigs, and in turn keeping a talented, young kid in the minor leagues living a pedestrian lifestyle in comparison those in “the show.” Funny how the morality crusaders never bring that one up…

The unproven, but credible, allegations of cheating, combined with Bonds’ self-entitled, tempermental and diva-like attitudes have inspired a substantial base of fans who lobby to keep Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame. I offer no opinion on that vital question here. But the two common arguments of those who rally for his exclusion seem to be lacking, confused, and even paradoxical.

The first argument against his inclusion is offered in response to the idea that that Bonds has not been convicted of anything and that he is afforded the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The anti-Bonds crowd are fond of noting the Hall of Fame’s independent standing, and that, as such, no conviction in a court of law is needed to exclude him. The Hall-of-Fame voters are well within their rights to not vote for Bonds simply because of their suspicion and presumption of guilt.

Got it. No argument from me there.

Another point of contention is that steroids were not deemed illegal by Major League Baseball until 2003 (The authoritative book, Game of Shadows alleges Bonds began using in 1999). Some people argue that even if we assume that he was taking steroids, they weren’t illegal and Bonds has not failed a drug test since they began testing for them. Those who would like to see a Bonds-less Hall are quick to point out that the rules of the United States trump that of Major League Baseball and that steroids are illegal in the country. This argument usually takes the form of ridiculous hyperbole like “murder isn’t specifically against the rules of baseball either, but you can’t kill your opponent.” Well, that is true. The problem with that argument is that the two cases are no different in the sense that MLB doesn’t have the jurisdiction to prosecute either.

What does the legal status of any substance Bonds may have taken have to do with his Hall of Fame candidacy? Even if Bonds were convicted of a crime, say, using a criminal substance, and thrown in jail, the Hall is not obliged to keep him off the ballot.

The anti-Bondsians can’t have it both ways! They can’t say that what Bonds did was implicitly against the rules of baseball because it was against the rules of the United States and then turn around and say that the Hall of Fame voters aren’t required to adopt the legal standards of the same body that is solely responsible for the contention that he was cheating (meaning, breaking the rules) in the first place.

At face value, Bonds is at least the fourth-best player of all time. To vote against him you have to determine he cheated, which means you have to adopt the legal system’s definitions of legitimacy over Major League Baseball’s. In turn, you have to adopt their standards of proof, which means Bonds has to either fail a drug test or be convicted in a court of law. If the legal system trumps Major League Baseball, it trumps the Hall of Fame too.

So, you can get wrapped up in the complicated semantics of overlapping standards of proof and legality and fact and conjecture. Or you can keep it simple and realize that even before 1999, for a period of ten years Barry Bonds was far and away the best player in the game. You can notice he would have deserved first-ballot induction if he had been hit by a bus the day before he first touched anything more powerful than a greenie, and vote for him on the basis of that.

Okay, I lied, I did give my opinion.

Posted in digglahhh, sports, Times-watch | 8 Comments »