Monday, February 10, 2014

on the "coming out" of Michael Sam (and two types of discrimination)

The next shoe to fall in homosexuality and sports: Michael Sam "comes out" as a likely/prospective draft choice in this year's NFL draft-- in an interview with ESPN.

There are a number of noteworthy differences from Jason Collins' coming out last April.

1.) Sam identifies himself as an American, a college graduate, and a gay man-- noticeably different in his self-identification from Collins (a point I discussed at length when Collins went public).

2.) Sam's story is much more compelling-- and my memory in comparing the two is that Sam is (far?) more eloquent.

3.) Sam had already gone public with his team and wanted to control the way in which the information is released.

4.) Sam is an excellent athlete at the beginning of what looks to be a productive NFL career (with much to gain/lose). Collins was at the end of a marginal NBA career (and had little to lose, at least in terms of his pro sport career).

This last point makes Sam much more interesting to a labor economist-- as a potential employee in the NFL. Labor economists talk about two different types of discrimination: personal and statistical. (Economists also talk about "price discrimination", but that's in a different set of contexts.)

Personal discrimination is akin to bigotry (or favoritism). It is a negative (or positive) *personal* assessment, unrelated to a worker's productivity. Here: if a team's decision-makers don't like Sam *because* he has a homosexual orientation and chooses a homosexual lifestyle-- *unrelated* to his ability as a football player. (It's also possible that decision-makers would like him because of his orientation and/or choices, unrelated to his football ability.)

Statistical discrimination is akin to stereotyping-- where agents make important decisions with limited and costly-to-obtain information. *All* of us do this sort of discrimination, by definition-- hopefully weighing low-cost information well and holding our judgments lightly. (Think about how you vote or choose strangers for a pick-up basketball game.) Here: if a team's decision-makers have no problem with Sam's orientation or his choices, but they're worried about how his orientation and choices will impact the productivity of the team (or more broadly, the profitability of the company). Or maybe they see his courage and the way he handles the media-- and they *assume* a positive correlation with productivity on the field. They don't *know* how these "non-performance" issues will impact productivity and profitability, but they have to assess what they see and decide whether to bear the potential expected costs or benefits.

The two concepts are valuable to know about on paper. But in practice, it's difficult (if not impossible) to tell which is in play.

A comparison to Tim Tebow is instructive here. As an outspoken Christian, Tebow might be bypassed or downgraded *because* of his faith-- if an owner/GM doesn't like Christians (or at least Christians like Tebow). (Alternatively, Tebow might be more attractive to a decision-maker because of his faith-- beyond his playing ability.) That would be "personal". Or a team's decision-makers might believe that Tebow is a good enough quarterback, but reasonably estimate that he might otherwise help or hurt the team's productivity (or the team's profitability) as a distraction or somesuch because of his faith.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home