Thursday, June 10, 2004

Bird's words 

You don't have to be an addict of sports talk radio (as I am) to have heard about Larry Bird's comments on the lack of white basketball superstars.
You know, when I played, you had me and Kevin [McHale] and some others throughout the league. I think it's good for a fan base because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited. But it is a black man's game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American.
I can't wait to hear Stephen A Smith hyperventilate, because I'm sure what he won't realize is the amount of research that's already out there on this. (He's still mad about Bird firing Isiah Thomas.)

What Bird is suggesting (or insinuating, if you want to take that tack) is that white fans discriminate. Not owners, not fellow players. Fans. Customer discrimination has long been a research area for labor economists, and the application to fan appreciation of minority and white athletes has been around for some time. There has been research on whether prices for collectible cards for athletes are systematically higher for white players than non-white, whether the benches for teams that play in markets with smaller minority populations have more white guys, or voting for players to play in the All-Star games. And we keep coming back to the same answer: Probably so. Some of the research is described in this press release from several years ago, a recent paper by my good friend Richard Burdekin at Claremont McKenna and two others, and this paper by Kanazawa and Funk. Though my colleague Orn Bodvarsson suggests pay discrimination has disappeared, he was really testing employer discrimination, and diminution of that form of discrimination is pretty consistent across all sports.