Sample Sports Paper on Salary Discrimination in Sports


Sports is one of the social events that bring people together in the form of entertainment. Nonetheless, professional sports have become a full-time occupation for different players who are paid like any other employees in the job market. There are several professional sports across the globe today, for instance, soccer, basketball, hockey, cricket, and rugby among others. However, different professional players have continued to be discriminated in their wages in sports based on several factors. This paper provides an analysis on the issue of wages discrimination in sports based on race, focusing on the National Basketball Association.


Salary Discrimination in Sports


September 1971 marked a historic moment in baseball where fans witnessed Pittsburgh fielding; an all-black team that played against Philadelphia (Scully, 1973). Nevertheless, the influence of the event was not significant to the spectators and analysts since they were obsessed with the results of the team rather than the outlook. The inclusion of black players in the team devoid of racial incident represented a sharp disparity to the astonishment caused by Jackie Robinson’s admittance into baseball. Several people have argued that over the last quarter of a century, sports have attained a mysterious objective of racial parity. Nonetheless, several cases within and outside sports have seen actions of discrimination on the basis of race. Normal fans or spectators of professional sports might not believe that the issue of wage discrimination is a major problem. Some of the evidences provided, however, contradict this notion. For example, currently, the majority of the United States population is black. This is the same case with major league baseball players where the majority of the pro basketball players are black. Furthermore, it is apparent that the black players seem to get more wages as compared to white players in sports.

Many black sports men and women have made considerable progress in the post-World War II eras by actively taking part in professional leagues in virtually all sports. For instance, the current most expensive transfer fee in the world’s soccer involved a black player, Paul Pogba of Manchester United. There are several other black players in different sports. In the major-league baseball, from the eras of Robinson through the years, the hiring policy of black players was established and has been upheld. For example, almost 7.5 % of players were black by 1954. In 1996, the rising trend of inclusion of black players had been adopted and nearly all major-league baseballs were having African American players. The current scenario has seen a stabilization of racial composition in sports, which was highly demonstrated in professional basketball.

However, by 1962, the proportion had increased and was triggered further by the establishment of the American Basketball Association (ABA). The enlarged need for players in the professional leagues hastened the establishment of the new basketball league that offers an opportunity for African American players in pro basketball. A related pattern was witnessed in professional soccer. Like other teams of professional sports, football teams were initially restrained from signing black players. Nonetheless, the National Football League (NFL) contracted its first black players in 1946. This, for instance was the period in which Kenny Washington and Woody Strode signed were contracted with the Los Angeles Rams. This trend was slowly adopted and in 1950s, there were only 3.3 percent black players in the NFL. After the establishment of the American Football League (AFL), the inclination of signing black football players gained momentum, which saw an augmented demand for players. This led to the increased number of black players in the league.

There were several reasons for increased inclusion of black players in the professional sports. One of the main reasons is decreased racial preconception that was being witnessed in the sports arena that made many blacks to be incorporated in the teams. Furthermore, the economics of obtaining ball players also contributed highly to increased black players in sports. This is because different teams could acquire the services of talented black players at a reduced cost, which also meant that the players could be paid less with regards to their performance.

Racial Wage Discrimination in the National Basketball Association

There has been a general empirical evidence in labor economics, which shows that blacks have lower employment earnings as compared to whites (Jane, 2012). Racial salary discrimination in National Basketball Association (NBA) is among the significant facets of labor market studies. The challenge of determining the element of racial discrimination emanates from the difficulty of effectively measuring the productivity of employees. Nonetheless, in sports, this aspect is not a major problem; the productivity is quantified in terms of performance and the information is accessible. Therefore, there is an immediate information in sports, which provides measures of productivity among players that are considered as the workers. For instance, in the 2008-2009 basketball season, 78% of the NBA players were blacks. Furthermore, a total of the leading 14 players who were highly paid were African American earning more than $ 17 million as basic salaries (Kyle, 2009). According to a Kahn and Sherer (1988), the 1985-1986 season also saw the top paid players in NBA being blacks. Nonetheless, there were elements of discrimination in the form of wages. Despite the fact that NBA seems to be an equal labor market racially, several cases of salary discrimination are apparent today.

As mentioned before, the NBA players are frequently seen by their fans both on the courts and while on the bench as compared to other players in other professional sporting in professional sporting in the United States. There are some indications of a premium associated with being a white player where white fans pay additional money to see the players in the teams. Therefore, customer discrimination is deemed to be more prevailing in NBA because of the visibility and comparative scarcity of white players in the league. Wages discrimination in the NBAs, therefore, is likely to be caused by customers, as it was evident in the 2008-2009 season.

Salaries in the NBA

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) is a labor union that is concerned with NBA. The union was formed in 1954 under the initiative of Bob Cousy. It is also the oldest professional sporting labor union in the northern part of America. NBPA main objective is to uphold the interests of NBA players attained through a mutual bargaining process. The mutual negotiating agreements are responsible for providing the fundamental principles for salary determination of the NBA professional players. Additionally, the collective bargaining power also saw the beginning of a free agency era in 1970s. The free agency permitted NBA players to sell their services in the exposed market when their prevailing contracts expired with current league teams. This was significant in negotiating a wage increase among the players (Kahn, 1991)

Nonetheless, the enactment of a stricter control in NBA has also seen the wages of players controlled. For instance, the NBA cap provides a limit of the total amount that the league team is allowed to spend on the players’ wages in a particular season. For instance, in the 2008-2009 season, the total amount that was set was $ 58.68 million. Moreover, the NBA also provides for a soft salary cap, which permits the teams to go beyond the set salary limit. This implies that the salary cap is not restraining, as it is thought to be despite a tax levy for defying the provisions. However, several institutions of free agency and wages caps have altered the wages structures of the NBA.

Several studies have been conducted to demonstrate the issue of wages discrimination in the sports over the years. In a study conducted by Kahn and Sherer (1988), a wage model for the NBA was examined using information from 1985 to 1986. In this model, several performances, markets, and individual variables were employed in analyzing the issue of wages discrimination. Race variable was the main emphasis of the study of the racial wages discrimination. In this research, race was represented by a mock variable. According to the findings of the research, it was ascertained that when everything else is constant, black payers in the NBA earn 20% less than their white counterparts. The research also pointed out that the origin of racial wage discrimination to the black players in NBA emanated from the discrimination by the fans. The research also found out that a general increase of white players in NBA teams is likely to enhance home fan attendance by a higher percentage. This represents a positive effect on the teams’ income earnings in the NBA. Moreover, several organizations support the NBA teams, which are motivated by profits. Therefore, if attracting more white players in the teams enhances more fan attendance, it implies that the organizations will endeavor to attract more white players through higher wages than blacks because more fans will attend the matches. The increased number of fans in the league games will mean more revenues for the teams and organizations. It is evident that customer discrimination in the form of consumer preference is one of the main causes of wage discrimination against the black payers in NBA since white players’ bids are higher. This is contrary to the standard economic theory where a team pays all players equally once they are hired despite all other factors (Lavoie, 1989).

Furthermore, wage discrimination in the NBA is also as a result of employer preferences. Nonetheless, this concept is not prevalent because the employer taking part in discriminating players is likely to encounter additional labor costs, which is not healthy in the competitive business market. However, as indicated initially, many of the organizations supporting NBA or the owners of the teams largely have a local monopoly on the NBA entertainment. This means that most of them are likely to follow other motivations rather than profit maximization. As a result, wage racial discrimination by owners of the NBA teams can take place in the form of disliking black players even if the fans do not share the same sentiments. In addition, discrimination on racial grounds can also occur as a result of the teams’ biases of the general managers, which is different from the consumers and the owners of the teams. All these forms of discrimination result in wage discrimination that is direct when the owner is associated and the manager can recommend.

There has also been a wage discrimination against black players that is grounded on the performance element. This was statistically demonstrated by Brown et al. using the 1983-1984 season and wage measures in the 1984-1985 season (Brown, Spiro & Keenan, 1991). In determining wage discrimination in this study, the performance concept was assessed as a variable. According to the results, it was evident that there was an increased wage premium for white basketball players in the NBA as compared to blacks. This confirmed that the NBA salary structure was racially discriminating since the black players were not equally compensated in the same manner as the white players. Nonetheless, Mathew Dey who insisted that the wage disparity was because of different positions that were played by the white and black players criticized this finding. There are several constructs that have been put forth to explain this concept of positional segregation in the NBA. This implies that merit alone is not a measure of judgement for determining wages of basketball in NBA (Christiano, 1986). It is suggested that many black players are mainly considered as outfielders since the positions they play entail little decision making and provide little leadership roles. On the other hand, infielders involve mostly white players who take part in most of the decision-making processes and leadership roles. Blacks are never assigned these roles because of prejudice (Scully, 1973). Therefore, the degree of field position by the black and white players determines their role and responsibilities, which is translated to the wage concept. Since white players are deemed to play crucial roles on the courts in terms of decision-making and leadership, they earn more wage as compared to their black counterparts in the same teams.

According to Hill (2004), wages discrimination was prevalent in the NBA before 1990s. In his investigation, the researcher used numerous performance statistics in determining the causes of wage discrimination as models, for instance, height. Hill understood that height was one of the variable that accounted for premiums entailed in wages. Nonetheless, he discovered that the race facet was prevalent in NBA players’ wages where white players received a 7.45 percent higher premium unlike the black players. When Hill incorporated the height variable, the race turned out to be an insignificant variable. Therefore, he found out that race and variable had no consequential correlation in determining the wages of NBA players. It was apparent that wages discrimination in the NBA was imminent in early years that was changing in the post 1990s.

According to Khan and Shah (2005), there is a wage discrimination in the NBA as seen in the 2001-2002 season. Nevertheless, this wage discrimination was experienced by a group of black players that were not registered in the rookie wages salaries scale and those that were not part of free agents. The rookie salary scale determines the NBA wages that were drafted in the initial round of the NBA draft, which did not consider the position played by the players’ performance or race. Therefore, players that were recruited after the first round of the draft were not considered in the rookie salary scale. Moreover, the NBA players who were covered by the rookie salary scale as well as veteran free agents were not affected by the racial wages disparities (Khan & Shan, 2005). Therefore, it was apparent that union pay measures and competition in the free agent market are among solutions to end the menace of wage discrimination in NBA. However, despite the fact that racial wage discrimination was imminent in different groups of NBA, it was not present in the entire industry.

Furthermore, the concept of wages discrimination in NBA is also closely related to races of the referring crew. According to Price and Wolfers (2007), there is an empirical evidence that is related to this facet. According to an investigation that was conducted between 1991 and 2004, players in NBA performances were greatly influenced by the race of the referees. The report indicated that since many of the referees in the NBA are whites, the matches effect is expected to favor the white players thus scoring more points to earn more wages. However, replacing all the white referees with blacks also implies that the scoring points among the black players also rise, making them to earn more wages. According to the data collected from the 2001-2002 season by Kahn and Shah, an average increase in scoring points by veteran players translates to salary increment. Therefore, replacing white refereeing squad with black crews will see black players earn more salary as compared to their white counterparts. Therefore, wages discrimination in NBA is also influenced by the effect of the referees.

Another form of discrimination in NBA that is not related to players is the wage disparity between the coaches. According to Kahn (2006), in many years, there were not many differences in the wages that black and white NBA coaches received, particularly from 1997-2004. On the part of female and male basketball coaches, men generally received more wages, particularly in college teams. According to a Federal sex discrimination that was filed by one of the former coaches in the University of Southern California women’s basketball team, male coaches receive more wages as compared to female coaches (Brook & Foster, 2010). Generally, it is argued that men coaches in NBA earn more wages as compared to female because of the experience of successful coaching careers as compared to the females.




The economic analysis of the NBA is significant because the league is close to many hearts of the American culture. Furthermore, the African American players form the largest part of the league. This paper has discussed several studies that relate to the concept of wage discrimination on racial and gender variables on the players and coaches. There have been several evidences of cases of wage discrimination among the players in the 2008-2009 season. Many previous analyses have also indicated racial wage discrimination in the previous years in NBA. Generally, white players have been shown to earn more than black NBA players as a result of several reasons, for instance, consumer preferences, employer preference, performance and union cover. Despite the fact that the wage discrimination concept continues to decrease with time, such cases are still witnessed in the current society.

In the United States, professional sports, particularly NBA, play a significant role among the players, fans, and sponsoring organizations. It is significant that as the whole world and nation continue to battle with the concept of racism and gender discrimination, the NBA fraternity should be at the forefront in ensuring that cases of discrimination are averted. Salary percipience among other forms racial segregation should not be an issue of the past. At the moment, it is evident that both blacks and whites need each other in all aspects of life and should accept each other, especially in the American society that encompasses the majority of the two races.






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