Tag Archives: sports

Umpires and Expectation Bias

Here’s Matt Holliday. It’s strike three and it was three bad calls.

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Holliday’s body language speaks clearly, and his reaction is understandable. The pitch was wide, even wider than the first two pitches, both of which the umpire miscalled as strikes.   Here’s the data:

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The PITCHf/x technology that makes this graphic possible, whatever its value or threat to umpires, has been a boon for sabremetricians  and social scientists.  The big data provided can tell us not just the number of bad calls but the factors that make a bad call more or less likely.

In the New York Times, Brayden King and Jerry Kim report on their study of roughly 780,000 pitches in the 2008-09 season. Umpires erred on about 1 in every 7 pitches – 47,000 pitches over the plate that were called balls, and nearly 69,000 like those three to Matt Holliday.

Here are some of the other findings that King and Kim  report in today’s article.

  •  Umpires gave a slight edge to the home team pitchers, calling 13.3% of their pitches outside the zone as strikes.  Visitors got 12.6%.
  • The count mattered: At 0-0, the error rate was 14.7%, at 3-0, 18.6% of pitches outside the zone were called as strikes, and at 0-2, only 7.3% of pitches outside the zone were called as strikes.
  • All-star pitchers were more likely than others to get favorable calls…
  • …especially if the pitcher had a reputation as a location pitcher.
  • The importance of the situation (tie game, bottom of the ninth) made no difference in bad calls.

It seems that expectation accounts for a lot of these findings. It’s not that what you see is what you get. It’s that what you expect is what you see. We expect good All-star pitchers to throw more accurately.  We also expect that a pitcher who is way ahead in the count will throw a waste pitch and that on the 3-0, he’ll put it over the plate.  My guess is that umpires share these expectations. The difference is that the umps can turn their expectations into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Cross-posted at Business Insider.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

What Happens to Olympics Infrastructure?

Before the Olympics, we often hear a fair amount about the preparations for the games — how much is being spent, the facilities being built, whether the city will have everything ready in time. But once the Olympics end, we hear very little about what happens to the infrastructure that millions or billions of dollars were spent on.

John Pack and Gary Hustwit’s The Olympic City project documents the life of Olympic infrastructure once all the spectators pack up and go home. As they explain,

Some former Olympic sites are retrofitted and used in ways that belie their grand beginnings; turned into prisons, housing, malls, gyms, churches. Others sit unused for decades and become tragic time capsules, examples of misguided planning and broken promises of the benefits that the Games would bring.

Flavorwire published some of their photos, mostly of sites that have been left to decay, leaving a long-term mark on the landscape of the locations that host the games. Here are just a few of their haunting images posted at Flavorwire.

Beach Volleyball Stadium from 2008 Beijing Olympics:

Ski Jump from 1984 Olympics, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina:

Train station built for 1972 Olympics, Munich:

Swimming pool at Lake Ahvenisto, Finland, from 1952:

This post originally appeared in 2011.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Richard Sherman Responds to Being Called a “Thug”

Immediately after the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Richard Sherman gave an intense, boastful post-game interview.  This triggered the always-present racism, as illustrated by many tweets that followed.  Here is just a sample from Public Shaming:

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These are obviously cruel and full of hate, but the ones in which he was called a “thug” got somewhat less attention:

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In interviews about the racist response, Sherman made some really nice points about what this means about the state of America and the specifically racial insults.  In a press conference, for example, asked about being called a “thug,” he argued that it’s just “the accepted way of calling someone the n-word these days.”  He points out that, in no way was what he was doing thug-like:

Maybe I’m talking loudly, and doing something… talking like I’m not supposed to, but I’m not… there’s a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey, they just threw the puck aside and started fighting.  I saw that and I said, “Aw man, I’m the thug? What!? What’s going on here?”

In another video, he expands on this point, saying: “I’m not out there beating on people, or committing crimes, or getting arrested, or doing anything; I’m playing a football game at a high level and I got excited.”

Sherman’s making two points.  First, that there was nothing thug-like about his behavior.  Thugs are violent criminals.  He’s just playing a game.  And, second, the term is decidedly racial, applied to him largely because of the color of his skin.  Meanwhile, hockey players, who are overwhelmingly white, as well as other white athletes, don’t as often get these sorts of labels even if they are physically violent in ways that exceed the demands of their sport.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Athletics and the Political Ambitions of Young Adults

In a comprehensive analysis of young men’s and women’s aspirations to public office, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox discover that part of the reason we see so few female politicians is because women just aren’t interested in running.  There are lots of reasons for this.  A absence of role models, a lack of encouragement from their parents, and the intimidating role that sexist attacks play in media coverage of campaigns.

But Lawless and Fox discovered another interesting correlation, one between political aspiration and sports.  More men than women – 74% compared to 41% — played on a college or intramural team and, for both, playing sports was correlated with political aspirations.  The figure shows that running for office had “crossed the minds: of 44% of women who played sports and 35% who hadn’t.  The numbers for men were 63% and 55% respectively.

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The authors suggest that the mediating factor is “an opportunity to develop… a competitive spirit.”  Sports, they argue, may build or reinforce the tendency to find pleasure in competition, which may make politics more appealing.

While sports increased both men’s and women’s interest in politics, it had a greater effect for women, shrinking the gender gap in political ambition by half.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Wanna Be in the NBA? It Helps to Grow Up Rich

Part of what makes professional basketball appealing, for kids who love to play as well as fans, is the idea that a person can come from humble beginnings and become a star.  The players on the court, the narrative goes, are ones who rose to fame as a result of incredible dedication and extraordinary talent.  Basketball, then, is a way out of poverty, a true equal opportunity sport that affirms what we think America is all about.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz crunched the numbers to find out if the equal opportunity story was true.   Analyzing the economic background of NBA players, he found that growing up in a wealthy neighborhood (the top 40% of household incomes) is a “major, positive predictor” for success in professional basketball.  Black players are also less likely than the general black male population to have been born to a young or single mother.  So, class privilege is an advantage for pro ball players, just like it is elsewhere in our economy.

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The richest Black men, then, are most likely to end up in the NBA, followed by those in the bottom 20% of neighborhoods by income.  Middle class black men may, like many middle class white men, see college as a more secure route to a successful future.  Research shows that poor black men often see sports as a more realistic route out of poverty than college (and they may not be wrong).  This also helps explain why Jews dominated professional basketball in the first half of the 1900s.

LeBron James was right, then, when he said, “I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I am not even supposed to be here.”  The final phrase disrupts our mythology about professional basketball: that being poor isn’t an obstacle if one has talent and drive.  But, as Stephens-Davidowitz reminds us, “[a]nyone from a difficult environment, no matter his athletic prowess, has the odds stacked against him.”

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gender-Swapping Christmas

Gendered nonsense wasn’t on the Pew Research Center survey about what people don’t like about Christmas, but it’s in my top five!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

When Jews Dominated Professional Basketball

Kids growing up in dense, urban environments often turn to basketball as their sport of choice.  This is partly because it fits, in a physical sense.  All things being equal, a basketball court takes up a lot less room than a football or soccer field.  For the economically disadvantaged, it’s also relatively cheap to play.  If you have a court available, you only need a pair of shoes and a ball.  For this reason, whatever population finds itself in this type of environment tends to take up basketball.

That’s why the sport was dominated by Jews in the first half of the 1900s.  Just like many African-Americans today, at that time many immigrant Jewish families found themselves isolated in inner cities.  Basketball seemed like a way out.  “It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” explained retired ball player Dave Dabrow.  Basketball scholarships were one of the few ways low income urban Jews could afford college.

Jewish basketball team (1921-22):

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Today we refer to stereotypes about Black men to explain why they dominate basketball, but this is an after-the-fact justification.  At the time, very different characteristics — stereotypes associated with Jews — were used to explain why they dominated professional teams. Paul Gallico, sports editor of the NY Daily News in the 1930s, explained that “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.”  All stereotypes about Jews.  Moreover, he argued, Jews were rather short and so had “God-given better balance and speed.”  Yep.  There was a time when we thought being short was an advantage in the sport of basketball.

Never underestimate the power of institutions and how much things can change.

New York Knicks (1946-1947):

1946 New York Knicks Team PhotoCross-posted at Pacific Standard.

 

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

NFL Hazing and Jonathan Martin’s “Man Card”

On October 28th, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the National Football League citing emotional distress as a result of abuse at the hands of his teammate Richie Incognito.  Incognito admits to having sent Martin racist, homophobic, and threatening text messages and voicemails but argues that rather than hazing or bullying, this was merely an instance of miscommunication between the two men.

While a great deal of media attention has questioned the behavior of Richie Incognito, a disproportionate amount of attention has also been given to Martin’s choice to report the abuse.  Why has Martin’s choice to report the abuse received so much attention?  What has been the main theme of those critiquing Martin’s choice?  And, what does this discussion mean for our national discourse on bullying and hazing?  The answers to these questions, I argue, are all linked to masculinity.

The media talks about Martin’s choice to report because his decision violated accepted cultural norms of masculinity.  Some may call these norms, more colloquially, the “bro code,” “guy code,” or “man code.”  Whatever we choose to call it, there are accepted ways in which men and boys are expected to conduct ourselves and our relationships to other men.  Martin stands accused, especially within the athletic community, of having broken the code.

In a very telling interview, Channing Crowder, a former teammate of Incognito, made it clear that this conversation is really about masculinity.  According to Crowder, Incognito tests his teammates.  He “tests you to see if you have enough manhood or enough testosterone” (even though this type of bullying is just as much about the perpetrator’s masculinity as it is the victim’s).

In this case Martin’s masculinity is under attack on two fronts.  First, it is under attack because he failed Incognito’s “test” of his manhood.  Second, he is under attack because his solution to Incognito’s bullying violated guy code.  According to the code, real men solve their problems with one another through violence.

Sports Illustrated reported that many NFL personnel consider Martin to be a coward or a wimp for reporting the abuse.  One NFL informant was even quoted saying “I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person.  If Incognito did offend him racially, that’s something you have to handle as a man.”  Others said it would have been preferable for Martin to “go down swinging” or to “fight.”  Even NPR ran a piece in which a regular guest argued:

Martin should have taken that dude outside and put his lights out.  I do not – I absolutely do not believe in a society where we run to the principal’s office every time these petty tyrants make a threat… Only power dispatches bullies… Jonathan Martin is a grown man and you can’t bully a grown man.

To be fair, in that same NPR piece, another interviewee stated that “not everybody resorts to violence in response to bullying and I applaud him for that.”

Nevertheless, by reporting the abuse rather than physically confronting Incognito, Jonathan Martin has been publicly stripped of his “man card.”

But, so what?  Why should we care about how grown men address bullying?  We should care because just as Jonathan Martin is being told to “man up,” so are young boys all over the country when they are bullied.  Boys are told that when they cannot physically confront a bully they are inadequate and unworthy.  They are taught to remain silent in the face of insurmountable violence because speaking out is a sign of weakness, or worse, femininity.  Too many boys are left with nowhere to turn when bullying makes trauma a daily experience.  In this sort of environment can we really be surprised that boys are committing suicide, developing depression, and lashing out violently at incredibly high rates?

Incognito on film:

Cliff Leek is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University.  He is a News Editor for Sociology Lens, co-founder of Masculinities 101, a Program Director for the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and a Research Assistant to TrueChild.  

Cross-posted at Sociology Lens and The Good Men Project.