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I have been so exasperated with the state of economic discourse of late, or even studying my field, that I have decided to take a small break from the 24-7 engagement I typically have with it. For example, I used to listen to economics podcasts or books or lectures on my drive to and from work. I’ve since allowed myself 15 minutes of sports-talk radio on the way in, and some music on the way home.

I used to love the Steve Czaban show due to its wit but also to the implied intelligence about economic questions. That show went off of Fox radio some time ago, and is now only available via satellite radio in my area, so I turned to the popular Mike and Mike show instead. It’s massive appeal says something about how much good economics can be put forth (indirectly) on the air. Listening this morning to a discussion of Lebron and racism slightly irked me.

The story is straighforward. (Black) basketball star Lebron James ditched Cleveland for Miami this summer and many folks seem to have been “hurt” by his decision. An interesting backlash is that Lebron’s popularity seems to have decreased, despite his being the best (or second best) basketball player in the world, and general impression of being a good guy. But his “Q rating” seems to have taken no hit within the black community, but a substantial drop in the white community. And much ink and airtime has been dedicated to examining whether this is true, and if so, why.

Now, I suppose we can talk about sampling issues and survey techniques, but the difference seems large enough on its face to be a real difference. Thus, I think the interesting question is the second one – is this a slightly racist response, are whites being harsh because Lebron is not white and blacks less harsh because he is black? I actually do not think it is an interesting question. But what is interesting is how little folks seem to try to think about how to interpret this difference as “significant.” An economist might start by asking the question, “how has the Q-rating of other players changed among blacks and whites, and then compare the Lebron response with that.”

For example, I am pretty sure that many people have become frustrated with Brett Favre’s off-season antics, even if they used to love him as a player. I am also pretty sure this would be reflected in his “q-rating.” Do we see differences in opinion among blacks and among whites when it comes to Favre? Might it even be the case that Lebron’s treatment is better than Favre’s, at least in terms of the role race is playing? Note that I am not saying that race is not important here – I am just asking folks to think harder about whether the different racial responses are unique to Lebron, or whether they manifest themselves in a whole host of different settings. Did Tiger get the same responses? Or how about when people rise in status, as Michael Vick seems to be doing today.

Finally, rather than putting up a second post (this is not a sports economics blog), I am tired of the debate about whether we should have more instant reply in football or baseball, at least given the current state of the technology. Everyone focuses on the blown call in the 9th inning or 4th quarter that “cost” teams a game. But the reality is that a blown call is probably just as likely at any point in a game. And unless people wish to have instant reply happen in all parts of the game, after every single call, then we have a big inconsistency. How, for example, could you argue that missed call in the 1st quarter changes the game any less than a missed call in the 4th? It’s not likely. I like instant replay. But until technology or human elements get to the point where we can apply it cheaply and consistently throughout all games, the piecemeal approach seems to me the best we can do – and I am not even sure I like that since on its face appears to violate some sporting notion of the Rule of Law.

One Response to “ESPN, Lebron, Racism and More”

  1. Harry says:

    You can take the economics professor to the ballpark, but you cannot take ballpark figures out of the economics professor.

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