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Racism and Opposition to Paying NCAA Athletes



Above: Shaquille O’Neal during the period when his labor was stolen from him.

There is literally nothing in the United States that can be explained without race as central to the analysis. This includes whether people believe that NCAA athletes should be paid:

There’s evidence that he’s right. In survey after survey, strong national majorities oppose paying college athletes. In March 2015, for example, an HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll found that 65 percent of Americans do not think college athletes in top men’s football and basketball programs should be paid.

But these attitudes vary significantly by race. In every survey to date, blacks are far more likely to support paying college athletes when compared to whites. For instance, in the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), 53 percent of African Americans backed paying college athletes–more than doubling the support expressed by whites (22 percent).

Huh. Wonder if there’s anything more to this? Oh, of course there is.

In a statistical analysis that controlled for a host of other influences, we found this: Negative racial views about blacks were the single most important predictor of white opposition to paying college athletes.

The more negatively a white respondent felt about blacks, the more they opposed paying college athletes.

To check our findings’ validity, we also conducted an experiment. Before we asked white respondents whether college athletes should be paid, we showed one group pictures of young black men with stereotypical African American first and last names. We showed another group no pictures at all.

As you can see in the figure below, whites who were primed by seeing pictures of young black men were significantly more likely to say they opposed paying college athletes. Support dropped most dramatically among whites who expressed the most resent towards blacks as a group.

This is not surprising at all. This doesn’t mean it’s the be all and end all in understanding opposition to paying players. After all, there are still plenty of African-Americans who for some reason are totally fine with blacks performing for no money in front of mostly white audiences. But it once again shows that racism frames every single thing in the United States.

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