As the NBA marches into its playoff season, a recent paper by Joseph Price (Cornell, Econ--grad. student) and Justin Wolfers (Penn, Wharton) will interest fans (and scholars). In Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees, Price and Wolfers compare the rates at which white referees call fouls on black players (and black referees call fouls on white players). An excerpted abstract follows.
"The essentially arbitrary assignment of refereeing crews to basketball games, and the number of repeated interactions allow us to convincingly test for own-race preferences. We find that—even conditioning on player and referee fixed effects (and specific game fixed effects)—that more personal fouls are awarded against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race officiating crew than when officiated by an own-race refereeing crew. These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, according to the racial composition of the refereeing crew."