Intelligent or Strong: research reveals bias in football broadcasts

MANCHESTER, England – For two weeks, Premier League players knelt before the games, demonstrating their support for the Black Lives Matter movement to millions of viewers around the world. Their peers in the Bundesliga did the same. In Spain, Italy, and the United States players followed suit.

Protests made it clear that players did not believe that football was immune to the systemic inequality that brought millions to the streets.


On Monday, a study called into question another aspect of football, which is not a level playing field.

In accordance with study by RunRepeat and published by the Association of Professional Football Players, an association of players in England and Wales, the difference in how European football commentators describe black and white players is dramatic.


By documenting a problem that players mourned for a long time, researchers found that broadcast commentators not only more often praised white players for their intelligence, leadership, and versatility, but also significantly more often criticized black players for what they considered absent. of these attributes.

Instead, research has shown that non-white players tend to receive praise for their physical qualities: what Interlu, Romel Lukaku, called “pace and strength element". Black players are four times more likely than their white counterparts to debate in terms of their strength, and are seven times more likely to be praised for their speed.


These were not the only differences. White players, according to the study, are more likely to attribute remarkable work ethics. The performances of black players, even when they were stellar, were more likely to be attributed to a good-form explosion.

“Commentators help us shape each player’s perceptions by deepening any racial prejudices already seen by the viewer,” said Jason Lee, Head of Equality Education P.F. “It is important to think about how serious these ideas can be and how they affect football players even after the end of a gaming career.


“If a player has the desire to become a coach or manager, is this an unfair advantage that players who commentators regularly call smart and hardworking give these views the result of racial bias?”

P.F.A. The study examined more than 2,000 commentators' comments on 643 players and distributed across 80 games – in the top divisions of Italy, Spain, England and France – since the current season.

The study is not the first of its kind. Scientists James Rada and Tim Wolfemeier analyzed racial descriptors in the 2005 newspaper who watched college television sports in the United States.


“Representing African Americans as naturally athletic or God-given with athleticism exacerbates the stereotype,” they wrote, “creating the impression of a lazy athlete who does not have to work in his craft.”

P.F.A. The study showed that when analyzing in-game events, such as the accuracy of a shot or a pass, commentators evenly distribute their praises and criticism between white and non-white players: there was no bias, as he concluded, in assessing actual events.

However, bias is traced when discussing players in more general terms. As Rada and Wulfmeyer discovered, the “brain versus muscle” stereotype persisted even when elite football was discussed in 2020. White players were praised, and blacks were often criticized for their quality and ability to adapt to various roles, and black players were singled out. for their physical strength, not their mental.

The players noticed. Manchester City striker Rahim Sterling, in particular, spoke about the need to ensure a wider representation of black players in managerial and managerial positions. But they also know what they talk about during the broadcasts.

“It's never about my skill when they compare me to other attackers,” Lukaku told The New York Times last year. “My dribbling is good. I can do it step by step. I can defeat the player. I remember one comment by a journalist that United should not sign Lukaku because he is not a “smart” footballer. ”

Efforts to focus on unequal treatment have increased within a few weeks after European football returned to the field due to its suspension due to coronavirus. Players in Germany, United States and elsewhere, they paid tribute to George Floyd, a black man who was killed while detained in police custody in Minnesota last month, and a group of Premier League captains led the initiative, which involved all the players. kneel before the match while wearing Black Lives Matter shirts where their names usually appear.

On Monday, the Premier League and the English Football League announced P.F.A. new program that, they said, there will be an increase in the number of black, Asian and ethnic minorities, or BAME, players moving from career growth to the role of full-time coach. According to a recent BBC survey, only six out of 92 managers in England’s top four divisions not white people,

"P.F.A. Proud supports a diverse membership on the field, "said the organization’s chief executive, Gordon Taylor," and we are committed to ensuring that this also leads to a significant representation of BAME in all other areas of the game. "

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