Friday, August 3, 2007

Open Bias: Is the WNBA Too Black for You?

It's old, but I found this blooper tape of WNBA Draft Picks in 2004 trying to say "Go Girl World" rather amusing.

Anyway, I got myself down to my local pizza shop to watch the Detroit Shock play the San Antonio Silver Stars. Detroit won a close game. It was a good game, as it should have been; Detroit and SA lead their conferences.
Aside: Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn NEED to coach in the NBA. They are still Bad Boys to the core and each got a technical foul. After Mahorn got his, he surreptitiously adjusted his glasses with his middle finger, knowing that the TV was panning on his face. Laimbeer also informed his team or the sideline announcer (forget which) that "Because the game's on TV, they'll call more fouls against us to keep it close."
Anyway, I still had to wonder, "Why isn't the WNBA more popular?" I personally like basketball in general, so I like the WNBA as well. The WNBA people I observed at the WNBA draft seemed pleasant and interesting. I've talked about this before and given suggestions for improvement. But I thought it'd be more interesting to link to some complaints about the WNBA. And I have to give my dark hypothesis, after trying to put a nice face on things in my previous analysis.

Hypothesis: The WNBA is too black (and thus, unattractive) for white males, who form the majority of the sports-viewing public. Thus they do not watch.

I decided to interview my favorite white male; myself. I did an informal study of WNBA players by looking at last names that begin with A-G on the WNBA list of players. (Yes, random sampling would have been best, for you stat heads). Here are my results.
32 of the 50 players were black.
From the pictures of the players in uniform from, I thought 4 out of 50 players were moderately attractive or higher.
Allowing myself to google players who might be "on the bubble" and also relying on my memory, I bumped that up to 12 of the 50 players.
Of that total, TWO of the 12 were black. What does this mean?

I graded 2 out of 32 black players as of at least average looks (Nikki Blue and Swin Cash, for the record) and 10 out of the 18 white players as of at least average looks. In other words, my measurement is about what you'd expect when I grade white players; about half of them are of average looks or higher, half are below. But when I grade black players, I find less than 10% of them of even average looks. And I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded person, and I like the WNBA and have no problem with female athletes. Yet I still come up with that result. One has to conclude either that I am racially biased to think that white women are prettier than black women, or that my sample was somehow biased.

Now I'm sure some people are going to accuse me of racial bias or being myopic. That's ok; it's worth it to prove the larger point here. And I challenge you to do a similar study with the list and tell me what you find. It's more people than just me. I recently read something that really opened my mind on this issue. White people, where do you think black people ranked TV shows like Friends? Seinfeld? You think they enjoyed those shows as much as you did? Ask some of your black friends. You might be surprised by the answer. (Idea for this courtesy of the Bias book by Bernard Goldberg.) On TV, we want people who share our skin color (or, even worse, who look just like us). That's who we find most attractive. And that's why the WNBA will never catch on with the majority of the viewing public.


  1. I don't think you are showing racial bias in a way that is harmful or even mean. I would term it more as what you are used to or attracted to. period. i am black and I like different features in a woman than white men don't and vice versa. That doesn't make me nor them racist, just different tastes.

    the one thing that goes against your argument is how popular women's tennis is and most of that was due to Venus and Serena.

    I think the WNBA has more problems than just the player are ugly or too many are black.

  2. Flight of the Conchords is the new Seinfeld. Wait... that's an insult to Seinfeld.

    Very self aware post, but you could have just picked alongside a Black friend. They might agree 100% with your assessment.

  3. Adrian, I think you are right that it's not really racism, in the way most of us would think of racism. I found it interesting how many bloggers thought Yao Ming was somehow "settling" by marrying his tall Chinese bride. Well maybe, because of his ethnic background, a tall Chinese woman is the height of hotness to him. And yes, the WNBA does have big problems because it can be so easily compared to the male equivalent of the sport. But I really wish it would do well. It's a shame that we have so few pro leagues for females in such a sports-mad country.

    But the hcic, I'm a blogger, I don't have any friends. :-p No, good point; would you be interested in doing the same thing? Or maybe I'll ask D-Wil to do this study.

  4. ask a dude. girls have different standards.