Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees

41 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2007 Last revised: 3 Aug 2010

See all articles by Joseph Price

Joseph Price

Brigham Young University

Justin Wolfers

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; The University of Sydney - Discipline of Economics; Brookings Institution - Economic Studies Program; Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); Kiel Institute for the World Economy

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Date Written: June 2007

Abstract

The NBA provides an intriguing place to test for taste-based discrimination: referees and players are involved in repeated interactions in a high-pressure setting with referees making the type of split-second decisions that might allow implicit racial biases to manifest themselves. Moreover, the referees receive constant monitoring and feedback on their performance. (Commissioner Stern has claimed that NBA referees "are the most ranked, rated, reviewed, statistically analyzed and mentored group of employees of any company in any place in the world.") The essentially arbitrary assignment of refereeing crews to basketball games, and the number of repeated interactions allow us to convincingly test for own-race preferences. We find -- even conditioning on player and referee fixed effects (and specific game fixed effects) -- that more personal fouls are called against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race refereeing crew than when officiated by an own-race crew. These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, based on the racial composition of the refereeing crew.

Suggested Citation

Price, Joseph and Wolfers, Justin, Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees (June 2007). NBER Working Paper No. w13206. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=997562

Joseph Price

Brigham Young University ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/jpp34/

Justin Wolfers (Contact Author)

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