There has been a rising interest in the subject of discrimination in professional sports amongst the economists and the general public (Kahn, n.d.). The general view in the public domain has to some extent been that sporting provides equal opportunities for everyone including minorities in terms of economical incomes. Sporting teams at times are perceived to be engaging in intensive competition whereby players are evaluated on the basis of merit. The view of sports as an equal opportunity avenue has been supported by the fact that sports have the highest minority representation as opposed to any other economic sector (Masella & Ball, n.d.). The interest of sports as an avenue by which any economic phenomenon such as discrimination can be investigated upon has been piqued by the fact that information on salaries, contracts, participant data, productivity, and size and structure of the sporting market can easily be accessed. This paper discusses racial discrimination in professional sports salaries.
Despite being racially heterogeneous, particularly in the US, racial-based discriminations in sports can manifest in several ways either by fans and teams themselves. Racial-based discriminations in sports can be exhibited in the following ways; fans can vary their match attendances, views on certain matches, and sales in a team’s memorabilia (Masella & Ball, n.d.). Teams can also exhibit racial discriminations when they create barriers for admittance of players from minority groups, reduction of the frequency of long-term contracts for racially different players, and offering racially-different players low compensation for equal productivity.
Players from minority groups are signed cheaply and offered low starting salaries as compared to their white counterparts even when they are in equal performance index. Since teams offered bonuses for players, blacks received equally lower bonuses. Since some teams offer salaries based on the position of players, blacks receive lower salaries as they are given segregated in terms of the positions they play for the team. Further, blacks have not yet been given senior roles or managerial positions in the team which usually receive higher salaries (Kanazawa & Funk, 2001). Since the productivity of different individuals depends on their ability to improve in the game, salary growth should be based on this index. However, the salary growth for players from minority groups shows slow growth.
Studies conducted showed that players of Hispanic and black backgrounds in professional sports who are in lower paygrades/levels receive lower salaries than their white counterparts within the same paygrades. Black players at the lowest level of salary scale are faced with racial discriminations in salaries they receive (Masella & Ball, n.d.). Teams less frequently usually offer players from minority groups long-term contracts. Consequently, contract length affects the salary that a player receives. This is because players with less contract time are risk-averse and would choose a stable income against a high salary pay. For instance, a player can agree on a 5-year contract where he is paid less amount of money than agree on a 2-year deal where he gets a higher amount since they would rather choose stability. Teams use such compromising situations to make players from minority groups agree on lower salaries (Kahn, n.d.).
Salary determinants in a sporting activity are statistically calculated over some statistical variables within the sport. On average, players within the same statistical performance index should receive the same salary (Scully, n.d.). However, a sport like NBA incorporates other non-statistical variables in the determination of the salary that a player would receive. This would include a player’s physical characteristics such as height, personality, traits, and leadership capability. This is where racial-based biases come into play as players from minority groups may not be gauged on the same category as their white counterparts. Therefore, since the team would use such statistics to determine the salary of a player, players from minority groups who have the same performance with whites based on statistical analysis do not receive equal salaries (Masella & Ball, n.d.).
Since NBA teams earn from media revenue just as they earn from attendances for their games, what customers prefer would from their decisions on which players to be played in their games (Rayburn, n.d.). Since audiences prefer to watch white players playing, a team would place many white players on their team so as to earn more from television commercials and attendance (Tainsky & Winfree, 2010). Therefore, the black players will not have a chance to play or be aired on commercials. Given the fact that teams usually consider the preferences of the fans before offering salaries to players, black players with fewer games played and fewer TV appearances will receive lower salaries.
Further, since white players produce higher revenue for the team, they will receive higher salaries (Gill, Williams , & Ulloa, 2016) than blacks. Consumer prejudices are evident also in the composition of populations of places where the sporting activity takes place. For example, a white-dominated town would see a high number of white players in their teams and therefore, clubs would tend to ensure that most players in their teams are white to increase revenue (Tainsky & Winfree, 2010). As such, players from minority groups may not get a chance to play, as they will be benched and replaced by white players. Therefore, white players will receive premium salaries while players from minority groups receive lower salaries.
Over the recent past, professional sports in the US have witnessed an increase in the number of players from different background. For, example, the NBA has not only gained an international platform of fans but also attracted talent from all around the globe (Rayburn, n.d.). As such, players from different countries might receive higher salaries as compared to those of players living in the US. However, there is a great disparity in the salaries depending on the size of the market that a player brings from their country. Therefore, a player whose home country or race who bring a larger market for the team will receive higher salaries than a player from a background that has a smaller market.
A 2015 study by The Sports Quotient, “Examination of Wage Discrimination in the NBA” analyzed researches from 1990-2014 which posited that no color-based wage discrimination existed when height and position factors are controlled for. The researches that the study used showed that white sportsmen in the NBA receive 13 percent higher salaries than their black counterparts and make 34 percent higher bump for any points and a similar penalty for being under the average PER level. The Sports Quotient concluded that white players received higher base salary as well as higher wage premium for a performance which is above average of the NBA sportsman. It further argued that white sportsmen faced a higher wage penalty for sub-average productions. Therefore, it contended that salary discrimination in NBA and basketball at large favored good white players and against bad white players (Quotient & Gordon, 2015). On the other hand, good black players received lower salaries for same productivity but below-average black players received higher pay than their white counterparts as their penalty for below average production was lower than that of whites.
Recent statistics however have been of the contrary opinion since racial-based discrimination in sports has drastically reduced. Forbes recent release of highest paid sportspersons globally showed a mix of both white and black players. In fact, a black sportsman, Floyd Mayweather topped the list confirming that indeed salary discrimination based on race might have ended. Further, the first top ten of the list has more than 3 sportspersons of color (Forbes, 2018). Another Forbes study found out that the highest paid female athlete was a black woman, Serena Williams suggesting that no clear pointer of racial discrimination in sports salaries (Badenhausen, 2018). A recent study into the salaries of NFL players compared the salaries of two players who have similar career production; Eric Decker and Julio Jones; the former a white and the latter a black, and the black sportsperson was paid almost as twice the amount Decker was paid. The report concluded that salary differences were not determined by race but rather by the sports input an individual had (Gill et al., 2016). This means that NFL did not experience any racial discrimination based on race.
From the foregoing above, it is evident that there are racial discriminations in professional sports salaries. Whilst this paper may have focused on the discriminations of salaries and compensations against non-whites, there are also discriminations against white in professional sports salaries. Therefore this paper argues that there exists salary discrimination in most sports. Black players have to be extraordinarily exceptional to receive more salaries than their white counterparts. Some sports like basketball which salary is determined by height and position, which are predominantly characteristic of white players, will exhibit racial discrimination in their salaries. On a below-average production however, black players are paid more than their white counterparts within the same productivity level.