Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Discrimination in NHL?

A journalist recently raised some eyebrows reviewing a new book by Bob Sirois that claims he has found significant evidence for the discrimination of French-speaking players in the NHL. I have heard this claim in the past, and have read some economic literature on the topic. While this seems to be news to the likes of Phil Birnbaum at Sabermetric Research Blog, people have been claiming this for over 20 years now with some evidence. I'm a little surprised people find this book release so shocking.

Phil doesn't believe the evidence presented in the review of the book, and with good reason. While I know very little about Sirois, the findings presented don't seem to be too satisfying (at least in a statistical sense). BUT, I'm sure he does shed some new light on the topic. Below is my comment at Sabermetric Research Blog, and if this is a topic that interests you, I'd suggest reading the papers listed at the end:

"I've seen a few papers on this topic coming out of the sports economics literature that seem to confirm the idea that French speaking players really may be discriminated against (at least in terms of salary paid when performance is supposedly even).

The Kahane paper below tries to find if there is inefficiency in that discrimination practice. It's pretty interesting. This would, of course, be expected if there is in fact discrimination taking place.

An older paper I read from 1992 attempts to explain differences through body size and defensive style of play, but I'm not sure about that (as I know nearly nothing about hockey). While generally a mixed bag of findings, the 'discriminatory' area seems to be defensemen.

The 2003 Longley paper attributes the discrimination to customers in certain areas (not that this type of discrimination makes it more right for the hockey teams if it exists).

Here are the ones I know of:
Longley (1995, 1997, 2003)

Kahane (2005)
Krashinksy (1997 for anther view)
Walsh (1988, 1992)
McLean (1992)"

If you have any sort of university search engine, those papers should be easy to find. They're from Canadian Public Policy, Journal of Economics and Sociology, Review of Industrial Organization, and Industrial and Labor Relations Review.

I guess the main difference to see about the newest Longley paper is that it attributes the discrimination to the customers, rather than the firm. If customers get less enjoyment from seeing French-speaking players on their team, then the firm has incentive not to hire those players. Unfortunately for the team, that's not a good excuse for discriminating. It's the same as only hiring white people at your upscale restaurant because you know your customers are rich racist people.

Anyway, it's an interesting topic and I'm surprised Birnbaum seems so unconvinced of the idea. There's also discussions over at The Book Blog and mc79hockey.com. In the end, I don't know who is actually right. I suspect a book with 'statistics' by a former hockey player has some not-so-great arguments, but might give an interesting in-depth look at any possible direct actions taken against French-speaking players.

As suggested by one author, it could be a style of play excuse. Hockey is much more interconnected than baseball, and communication or playing style could have significant effects on how a team as a whole performs. Then again, the Kahane study seems to find pretty explicit evidence against that.

UPDATE: Phil commented that he's not against the idea of discrimination. Just wanted to make that clear. I tried to present the fact that I agree with some of the critiques of the 'evidence' provided in the book review. But he does mention that the accusation is premature, which I have to disagree with given the long history of papers investigating this topic.

NEW LINK: The Sports Economist

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