According to some people, perhaps more wishfully than rationally, we’re living in “post-racial” time in which bigotry isn’t a problem anymore in the workplace or other areas of our society. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Undoubtedly, racism is much more subtle today than it was during the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan but it still impacts hiring decisions, performance evaluations, and other workplace situations. A study of Major League Baseball games by Southern Methodist University (SMU) researchers provides quantifiable evidence of this.

The SMU study utilized the QuesTec computerized pitch-monitoring system to look at 3.5 million pitches from 2004 to 2008. A key finding was that home-plate umpires called disproportionately more strikes for pitchers in their same ethnic group. In short, white pitchers received the benefit of the doubt on close calls by white umpires while pitchers of color didn’t. Since the majority of Major League Baseball umpires are white, white pitchers have benefitted — and pitchers of color have been hurt — by this form of racial privilege.

The study revealed that while white pitchers could successfully nibble at the corners of the strike zone, “minority pitchers reacted to umpire bias by playing it safe with the pitches they threw in a way that actually harmed their performance and statistics,” according to the SMU research team.

It makes you appreciate just how dominating a pitcher Bob Gibson was ….

Of course, the SMU study has implications for our society beyond the world of sports. As David Sirota wrote while commenting on the the SMU study, “Though gleaned from baseball, these findings transcend athletics by providing a larger lesson about conditioned behavior in an institutionally racist society.” See “How Baseball Explains Modern Racism.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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