Racial bias in sports commentary

This report was just published by a Danish research firm, noting that English-speaking soccer commentators tend to praise intelligence and work ethic more in white players and physical attributes more like power and speed in non-white players:
Article about the report in The Guardian:
I have to think that a similar study will be commissioned at some point to study commentary on American sports, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see similar findings reported. This seems like quite a big deal, and I wonder how the sports television industry may change as a result. It certainly doesn't bode well for my own career prospects as a white male commentator! (The latter is definitely not my first takeaway from this report, FWIW, but it has been quite clear to me for some time that if I were non-white - or female - my chances of rising through the commentary ranks in either the UK or the US would be much, much higher, and the obvious remedial action for broadcasters here will be to increase the proportion of non-white commentators they hire. That may well be the correct action to take, too.)
 

Cotillion

lurker
Jun 11, 2019
375
I though it was already done in the US. The whole “gritty” “dirt dog” “hustler” type thing.

It’s definitely been brought up before. Not sure if an actual stud though.
 

Cotillion

lurker
Jun 11, 2019
375

Our analysis shows that while black players are not discriminated against, foreign-born players—of which the vast majority are Latino—find themselves at a disadvantage.

"Last season, I led this team in ninth-inning doubles in the month of August!"

–Tom Selleck as Jack Elliot, in the 1992 movie Mr. Baseball

Virtually everything a baseball player can do on the field has a corresponding metric, no matter how completely meaningless (ninth-inning doubles in the month of August), misleading (pitcher wins), or downright silly (fielding percentage). Announcers, however, still find themselves commenting on things that are inherently immeasurable. These "intangibles" nonetheless comprise a
The analysis reveals that foreign-born players—the vast majority of whom are Latino—are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to receiving praise for intangibles. Latino players are almost 13 percent less likely to be praised for intangibles than their white counterparts. Announcers are nearly 14 percent more likely to praise a US/Canadian-born player for intangibles than they are their international counterparts. Unfortunately, data is inconclusive as to whether or not American-born Latino players such as the Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez are also at a disadvantage, or whether the bias only applies to foreign-born Latinos. Black players—a population in decline in MLB—are not at any particular disadvantage. There are not enough Asian players in MLB to draw any meaningful conclusions.

A difference of 13 to 14 percent may not seem very large, but over the course of a 162-game season, a player is exposed to over 300 broadcasts—nearly every MLB team has its own affiliate with its own announcing crew that covers its games. Add in the fact that in any given broadcast, announcers are likely to use from between 20 and 40 intangibles, and the number of intangibles that could involve the player leaps nearly into the thousands. This bias over the course of the season can help paint a picture of a player using terms that have no grounding in measurable reality.
More details at the link. So somebody has done it for baseball back in 2012.


I think this is the one I was half remembering.
 

joe dokes

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 18, 2005
15,217
This report was just published by a Danish research firm, noting that English-speaking soccer commentators tend to praise intelligence and work ethic more in white players and physical attributes more like power and speed in non-white players:
Article about the report in The Guardian:
I have to think that a similar study will be commissioned at some point to study commentary on American sports, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see similar findings reported. This seems like quite a big deal, and I wonder how the sports television industry may change as a result. It certainly doesn't bode well for my own career prospects as a white male commentator! (The latter is definitely not my first takeaway from this report, FWIW, but it has been quite clear to me for some time that if I were non-white - or female - my chances of rising through the commentary ranks in either the UK or the US would be much, much higher, and the obvious remedial action for broadcasters here will be to increase the proportion of non-white commentators they hire. That may well be the correct action to take, too.)
Without commenting on the UK football article, this has been an issue in the US for decades, although my sense is that its gotten better in the last 10 years or so. As Fire Joe Morgan (or anyone paying attention) regularly pointed out, for a very long time, only white baseball players were "scrappy." Only average white players were on the list of players who got the most out of their talent, while players like Bonds (put the roids aside for now) were never on such a list. Billy packer was infamous for referring to the black players as "ath-a-letes" while inferior white players were "hustling gym rats."
Jordan called it out once when he pointed out that writers & broadcasters treated him as though he came out of the womb dribbling a basketball while Larry is treated as though he works 28 hours a day on his game." I think that, in some ways, statistical analysis has helped to demonstrate that no, Little White Guy's "productive outs" aren't nearly as helpful as "underachieving, but talented" not-white guy's non-outs.
 

Nator

Member
SoSH Member
I found this link via a 2014 Deadspin article, but it still holds up. It breaks down the words announcers use to describe players during NFL draft coverage, and shows how often it breaks down between white and black players. Just type in any word for a breakdown.

http://reubenfb.github.io/Draftwords/?inputbox=smart

Here are some examples below. It is clear that there needs to be more diversity in all forms of broadcast, and more thoughtfulness about word choices.


32222

32223
 

Kliq

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 31, 2013
12,154
Something discussed before in regards to the NBA Draft is that player comps are almost always race/ethnic related. White players are often only comped with other white players, black players with black players, and Euros with euros.
 

InstaFace

MDLzera
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
Sep 27, 2016
12,519
Pittsburgh, PA
A 538 summary + interview of the UK soccer study:


The tropes have bothered me for a little while (and, just as much, the extent to which I've passively accepted them), but I guess what bothers me even more than the casual racism is the sheer laziness. The commentators aren't actually observing, thinking, drawing conclusions, and then speaking, even if the first few are done during prep or otherwise off the air. They're just relying on whatever their stereotypes tell them are likeliest. They may be parroting what other people have told them is the case for this player or that (and, wouldn't you know it, look at those racial correlations...). In no case are they independently coming to a considered conclusion that this black player is strong and fast, or that white player is intelligent and subtle (or who deserves credit for good play / blame for the bad).

Basically, we've got a bunch of two-bit commentators on air for us in most major sports, and most of the time they're hugely well-paid and not putting in the work, other than the politicking to get the job and get noticed in the first place. I wish I knew what leverage the fanbases could have (or have ever had) to get networks to measure and think about this. Maybe this data is the start of something, some meta-analysis, that could eventually help us pick the best commentators just as the teams try to pick the best players.
 
Basically, we've got a bunch of two-bit commentators on air for us in most major sports, and most of the time they're hugely well-paid and not putting in the work, other than the politicking to get the job and get noticed in the first place.
Apart from the bit I've bolded, which I don't think is always the case, the rest of this is very close to the mark, IMHO. There are just as many lazy commentators - play-by-play and color - as there are lazy columnists. But while I wish the final sentence of your post is correct, I don't think that's ever, ever going to happen.