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Must-Click Link: the subtle racial bias of baseball broadcasters

Aug 27, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT

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We’ve talked casually for years about how white athletes are described in different terms than black or Latino athletes. The whites are smart, gritty and hard-working, the blacks are naturally gifted or are described in terms of raw athleticism and the Latinos are dumb or lazy. You’ve heard this kind of noise before. We all have, even if it’s extremely rare for so fine a point to be put on it.

It’s a subject worthy of more rigorous observation, so recently Seth Amitin of IGN.com and Dingersblog.com researched the topic. The results, in depth (though there is a longer version I’ll have my hands on soon) are published over at The Atlantic today:

Are sports announcers guilty of this sort of bias, and are viewers unknowingly absorbing them?

To answer this question we dispatched a group of ten people to combine to watch every single television broadcast of a Major League Baseball game for a week last season—95 games total, and nearly 200 separate broadcasts, since nearly every team fields its own broadcast for every game. We analyzed these games for the words announcers used to describe players, with the goal of finding out whether broadcasters spoke about white players and players of color differently.

Definitely worth a read. Indeed, if you’re white, the only excuse not to read it is that you’re suffering from a nagging injury that we all know you’d play through if you could. If not, it’s because you’re a lazy clubhouse cancer squandering your talents.

  1. keithbangedyermom - Aug 27, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    Boring.

  2. mybrunoblog - Aug 27, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    A baseball announcers subconscious use of racial stereotypes in interesting. Sadly, it reminds me of the soft bigotry of those who support affirmative action and racial quotas.
    Perhaps someday the dream of Reverand King will come true. We will judge each other on the content of our character not the color of our skin.

    • thefalcon123 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      “Sadly, it reminds me of the soft bigotry of those who support affirmative action and racial quotas.”

      This is one of the most extraordinary leaps in non-logic I’ve come across in a long. And this is coming from someone whose father is a moon-landing conspiracy theorist!

      The purpose of affirmative action is comeback settle, institutionalized racism inherent in higher education. I work in higher-ed, specifically in the areas of data reporting and admissions. I can’t count the number of times we’ve had to ensure the files of African-Americans were re-evaluated because they were initially rejected while their white counterparts with unfamiliar GPAs and extracurricular activities were accepted.

      I think it is fair to argue the merits of affirmative action, whether it is successful and should be continued. But comparing it to racial bias of sports commentators is a pretty huge leap at the least.

      • thefalcon123 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:11 PM

        Before someone corrects me, I omitted the fact that affirmative action obviously exists in places besides higher education.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:15 PM

        It is judging people based on ethnicity. Plain and simple. Affirmative action has a noble intent, but it still separates the races.

      • thefalcon123 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:21 PM

        You know, writing “plain and simple” doesn’t mean it’s plain and simple. It means you either refuse to acknowledge the complexity of an issue or are too ignorant of the complexitiy to understand it.

        Judgements, but conscious and unconscious are made based upon your race every day. For example, I don’t think the academic team are our school are looking at these candidates and saying “fuck him, he’s black!”. I instead think that they are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a marginal white applicant…and a litany of statistics would back this up. Is that white applicant not the beneficiary a form of affirmative action?

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:42 PM

        My intention was to say that the link between racism in broadcasting and affirmative action is not complex. Both are race-based judgements.

        The problem with affirmative action is that it CAN undercut the value of the benefit it is designed to impart. I think SOME employers see a person of color with excellent credentials and assume, correctly or incorrectly, that the credentials were helped by affirmative action or some similar program. They then have some factual basis for saying the credentials of a white applicant ‘mean more.’

        In the larger scheme of things, there needs to be something to correct the racist imbalance created over hundreds (thousands? millions?) of years. I am not sure if the means of accomplishing that goal should be by promoting the valuing people based on race.

      • American of African Descent - Aug 27, 2012 at 4:11 PM

        The topic of affirmative action in education is a fascinating one. I certainly have a lot of sympathy for the crowd who wants to admit only the most qualified. Query, though, how one determines who is most qualified.

        Most schools [colleges, graduate schools, and elite boarding schools] consider (i) standardized testing scores, (ii) grades at a previous school, (iii) a personal statement or other writing sample, and (iv) letters of recommendation. (Sometimes schools consider legacy status, which is often affirmative action for white people.) Only one of these metrics — the standardized test — is truly objective. Starting backwards, letters of recommendation and personal statements are the very definition of subjective metrics. And grades from one’s previous school? How can we compare a student at an expensive private school with grade inflation with a student at a suburban public school?

        If you really want to get rid of affirmative action, I’m all for it. But then let’s get rid of all the other subjective measures of determining who is worth admitting. Let’s have one test and assign spots based on how people perform on that test. Of course, if we do that, if current trends hold, Asians will overwhelmingly populate all of the elite schools.

  3. schlom - Aug 27, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    How can we believe any study that comes up with Jimmy Paredes as the tenth most commentated on player in baseball? And Dioner Navarro and Jimmy Paredes as the second and third most criticized players?

    • manifunk - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      Yeah, how can we believe any study that uses stats and numbers to come to a conclusion different from your own conclusions via anecdotal evidence? Clearly the study must be flawed.

      • schlom - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:17 PM

        The point is that if Jimmy Paredes is the tenth most commentated player in baseball it’s obvious that either the data collection method or conclusions from that data are incorrect.

      • manifunk - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:19 PM

        And you’re basing this accusation on……what, exactly?

      • schlom - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:02 PM

        How do I know the study is flawed? Because Jimmy Paredes is the tenth most commentated player. There is obviously a sample size issue involved as they just took a weeks worth of games from August 11-17, 2011. That’s just too little of a time frame to make any conclusions from.

      • manifunk - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        Actually, the findings are statistically significant, the n here is more than enough to make strong claims backed up by science and numbers, while you are merely shooting from the hip with no proof because you don’t like one part of the results.

      • kevinbnyc - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        The sample size is large enough to make it significant, however sampling one week of the season seems to guarantee that certain players will be talked about far more often than others.

        If Dustin Pedroia was on fire that week, and they were talking about the “scrappy” (white) second baseman for the Red Sox all the time, it would inflate that statistic. And who would be able to deny him his praise, or that the little guy sure as hell is “scrappy”, regardless of race?

    • purnellmeagrejr - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      grittty column, Craig; instead of packing it in after a couple paragraphs you hung in there and kept grinding – the kind of appproach Craig Calcaterra has begun to expect out of Crag Calcaterra.

    • Ralph - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:35 PM

      You clearly didn’t bother to read the article or skimmed over the part where it said that “we dispatched a group of ten people to combine to watch every single television broadcast of a Major League Baseball game for a week last season—95 games total, and nearly 200 separate broadcasts”.

      This was a 7 day period. It’s entirely possible that Jimmy Paredes was the tenth most commentated player in baseball for that time period.

      • kevinbnyc - Aug 27, 2012 at 6:05 PM

        Which shows that there’s a pretty large error in their methodology. What about 7 randomly selected days throughout a single baseball season?

  4. willclarkgameface - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    What I am absolutely SURE they have found is this:
    1) Don Orsillo still sucks and will continue to suck with his Sean McDonough-lite routine.
    2) Jose Mota in Anaheim (I refuse to call that team “Los Angeles”. If anyone is here from CA, you have to agree) sucks even worse than Don.
    3) Vin is the greatest there ever was and ever will be.
    4) Mark Grace knows how to party when he’s not driving.
    5) Gary Thorne is the 2nd best voice in baseball after Vin.
    6) Ken Harrelson is a bigger homer dink than Don Orsillo, but has a better home run call.
    7) John Sterling is an even bigger homer than Hawk AND his cheesy calls and nicknames have to be the worst ever in MLB history. 8) Bob Uecker is pretty cool.
    9) Jon Miller is grossly underrated.
    10) Even the announcers in Miami and Tampa don’t give a fuck about Florida baseball.

    • CJ - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:06 PM

      now there is substantive proof that there is something wrong with you. Anyone who enjoys Hawk’s homerun call is either 1) a white sox fan, 2) an individual who has been institutionalized, 3) an individual who has not yet been institutionalized, but can’t figure out why everyone calls him ‘Radio’.

      • willclarkgameface - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:14 PM

        Never said i LIKED his home run call, but it does sound better than Don Orsillo who sounds like a 3rd Reich general when the Red Sox hit home runs.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:08 PM

      ever see this ranking done by fangraphs, top 30 announcing teams:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/broadcaster-rankings-tv-10-1/

      John Sterling is an even bigger homer than Hawk AND his cheesy calls and nicknames have to be the worst ever in MLB history

      Epitome of John Sterling:

      • dondada10 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:24 PM

        There’s nothing better than Boomer & Carton.

  5. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Not sure if it’s my bias showing, but the results seem a bit, odd, don’t they? When they mention most praised players, I figured I’d see someone like Pedroia on the list considering people like Bobby V couldn’t stop verbally fellating him on Sunday Night baseball last year. Also, some of the most praised I’ve never even heard of.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      Sigh wtf computer.

      Who is Justin Sellers, or who is Jimmy Paredes and why is he one of the most criticized? A bit shocked I don’t see Arod on the list of most criticized (whether rightly or wrongly).

      Would have been nice to see a breakdown of the most-used terms and the teams they correspond to. Often hear how the Angels and Twins “play the game right” even when I see them throw the ball around the infield like the Bad News Bears.

  6. proudlycanadian - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    I do see bias on HBT when certain posters suggest that Latino power hitters be tested for steroids when they already subjected to steroid testing. Heyman’s shortcomings as a reporter are well known. He is low hanging fruit. Based on comments I have seen on HBT about Rasmus, I am surprised that he was not mentioned negatively by a lot of commentators. I laughed when I read that “Jon Rauch…has no citable intangibles.” As far as his tangibles are concerned, he has to have some of the worst tattoos in baseball.

    • cur68 - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      Its kind of funny in a sad way, this whole business about who gets praised and how. Still, speaking from personal experience, its a lot better than it used to be. These days you actually have to look pretty hard to catch why what’s happening is happening the way it is. Once again, speaking from personal experience, I have to say it was better in some ways when you were told to your face the reason you were going nowhere as opposed to deducing it based on a long standing pattern of seemingly random criticism. Anyhow, the heartening thing to me is how hard these guys had to work to pull all of this together. Once upon a time all I had to do was leave the house.

  7. schlom - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    How can Jonathon Broxton not be on the list of most criticized? I would think that every time he came into a game someone mentioned how fat he is.

    • paperlions - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:46 PM

      Again, because the study encompassed ONE WEEK of the season…and Broxton may have been hurt or (by chance) not sucked that week.

  8. umrguy42 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    “The list of most-praised players is very similar to the most-mentioned players. By and large in the data, announcers were quick to praise and more sparing in their criticism. The absence of Pujols—the face of the Cardinals throughout the 2000s—on this list speaks to the possibility that Cardinals announcers were perhaps priming listeners to accept the possibility of his leaving for greener pastures via free agency.”

    Possibly. Or, as an alternate explanation – what he was doing was so “normal” for him, that you wouldn’t have a lot of praise – he’s meeting expectations, as it were, even if those are much higher than for others. If they’d done this earlier in the year, like when he managed to come back from injury early and tear things up, he’d probably be further up on that list.

  9. shanabartels - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    Craig, can you link the longer version when it goes up?

  10. papichulo55 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Not really news, Craig. There is a long standing belief among us African Americans, that we need to be fifty percent better, just to be considered equal. In everything, not just basketball. Id like to believe that America can trust its eyes more than the words of a few self-proclaimed TV experts. I once sat in front of Marvin Websters family at a Knick game, during the Hubie Brown years. He was calling Marvin everything in the book. Some of it questioning his heritage and the marital status of Marvins mother and father. Before I even got a chance to get offended, I turned around to see Marvins wife and children roaring with laughter at each expletive. Laughing all the way to the bank! It was then that I truly understood the business of the game. Marvin didnt complain, so why should I?

  11. denny65 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    The only bias I’ve noticed being displayed by Dave Sims and Mike Blowers (Mariners, Root Sports) is their constant reference to shortstop Brendan “Mendoza, baby!” Ryan as a “Gold Glove lock,” or, after one of Ryan’s errors “wow, that ball sure took a bad hop.”

    Oh, Ryan is white, btw.

  12. nobody78 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    i think I’m going to get about a billion thumbs-downs for this, but:

    This study finds that foreign-born players are praised at a lower rate for their “intangibles” than are American born players – 13% less likely, the data says. This may or may not be the case for American-born Latinos – the data is inconclusive, the article says.

    Given the natural obstacles that most foreign-born players face – having to adjust to life in a new country, a possible language barrier, and the fact that the educational situation in most of the countries from which they come is far inferior to that in the US – it would be highly surprising if they exhibited “intangible” qualities at the same rate as American-born players. The fact that the difference in the rate at which they’re praised for intangibles is only about 13% suggests to me that it is probably not a consequence of bias on the part of the announcers.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      I had a similar thought when reviewing the results. Many (most?) of the foreign-born Latino players come from MLB team academies, often forgoing traditional schooling to concentrate fully on their baseball lives. Isn’t it possible that certain traits and priorities make up the fabric of that culture? Maybe a 15-year-old Dominican kid feels a NEED to make his fielding look effortless, thinking that the appearance of maximum effort might be confused with struggling. Or maybe leadership is not encouraged, as the instructors are the ones with all of the power and influence. It is entirely possible for cultural differences to exist, and perhaps be misinterpreted by the average broadcaster.

      I wonder if the Telemundo or ESPN Desportes broadcasters exhibit similar trends, or if they view the foreign-born players in the same way as the predominantly Caucasian broadcasters employed by MLB teams.

    • paperlions - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:53 PM

      Yes, but most of the “intangibles” are character related and not education related. The fact that nearly all Latin-born players speak at least 2 languages should be a point in their favor, instead they are more likely to be thought poorly of because of their English (which is likely far better than the 2nd language skills of those doing the judging).

      Latin players had to overcome far more to play baseball than most American born players, yet they are more commonly thought of as selfish (even though the likely give far more of their salary to family and charity back home) or lazy (despite overcoming many obstacles to play in MLB, including coming to the US alone as teenagers).

      I am more inclined to think that announcers (as a group) judge players based on their interactions with them and that those judgments bleed into their commentary.

      • paperlions - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:55 PM

        To continue, if the announcers learned Spanish and could communicate with the Latin players in their native languages, I bet they would have a lot more positive impression of them and that would translate into less criticism on air.

  13. papichulo55 - Aug 27, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    I also seem to recall Isaiah Thomas complaining about the praises of Larry Bird, and how it spilled over to other less worthy players. Also remember how he was all but told to “shut the hell up” by the other players.

  14. hisgirlgotburrelled - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    I read the article, but it took me a long time. I will later be praised for my thoroughness.

  15. lew24 - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    My favorite is, “He is very articulate!” They never describe a white guy as being articulate!

    • indaburg - Aug 27, 2012 at 5:02 PM

      My reply whenever I hear that is, “Why wouldn’t you expect him to be articulate?”

  16. bravojawja - Aug 27, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    I wonder how much of the relative negativity toward Latinos is less about racism and more about the language barrier (feel free to argue that the latter informs the former). Broadcasters travel with the players, stay in the same hotels, hang out in the clubhouse, and “talk baseball” in down time. If the broadcaster can’t speak Spanish and the player can’t speak English, how often do they talk outside of the postgame interview, via a translator? Instead the guys in the booth will hang out and talk to the American guys, get to know them, and generally like them better than the guys who talk funny.

  17. papichulo55 - Aug 27, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Remember Roberto Clemente being interviewed postgame. The interviewer was clearly asking standard, meatball questions, while Roberto wanted to get some things off of his chest. This disconnect was obvious to everyone but the announcer, who failed to redirect Roberto. Clearly a language barrier. Well, Roberto went into a diatribe about the difficulties of travelling as a Latino ballplayer. The interviewer never caught on that Roberto wasnt sticking to the questions. Finally, Roberto summed everything up by referring to himself as a “Double N*gger”! The pregnant pause of the interviewer and the innocent lack of awareness by Roberto was classic TV! My entire family fell on the floor with laughter as the interviewer nervously announced ” a word from our sponsor”! And as a young Phillies fan, I made sure to see Roberto everytime he came to Connie Mack. Where is the real movie, telling his story?

  18. papichulo55 - Aug 27, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Who cares what the announcers think? They dont sign any checks! American sports is one of the worlds greatest examples of meritocracy. If you can play, it wont matter where you are from, what language you speak, what religion you practice. Other than popular music, I cant think of any slice of American life that has a better record of inclusion. Besides, the only time I listen is when a star is not on the field, or I am in my car. Otherwise, I am listening to music…

  19. revansrevenant - Aug 27, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    The only outlet of news that is less reputable than IGN is Kotaku. Seriously.

    • revansrevenant - Aug 27, 2012 at 9:46 PM

      Please ignore the above comment. This is what I get for letting a drunk friend use my computer.

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