Reality Doesn’t Care About Feelings, Volume 3 – The Colin Kaepernick Protest

Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem has been a hot topic of conversation of late, with everyone from news outlets, to political shows to sports shows having guests on to weigh in with their opinion. His rationale for the protest has been the following, in his words:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

This, combined with his decision to wear the following socks, depicting police officers as pigs, suggests that his main concern has been the treatment of black Americans by police officers.

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I respect Kaepernick’s right to engage in protest of the flag, and the national anthem. Indeed, the very flag and national anthem is what confers upon him that right. Much of the discussion I’ve seen on the subject has centered around whether Kaepernick’s protest was done in the right way, whether it was wise of him to use NFL games as his platform, and things of that nature.

All of this assumes that his protest is legitimate in the first place. I contend it isn’t. Consider the following passage, taken from this recent article in the Washington Post addressing the subject of the racial distribution of police shootings:

In 2015, The Washington Post launched a real-time database to track fatal police shootings, and the project continues this year. As of Sunday, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).

 

But as data scientists and policing experts often note, comparing how many or how often white people are killed by police to how many or how often black people are killed by the police is statistically dubious unless you first adjust for population.

 

According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. As The Post noted in a new analysis published last week, that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.

 

U.S. police officers have shot and killed the exact same number of unarmed white people as they have unarmed black people: 50 each. But because the white population is approximately five times larger than the black population, that means unarmed black Americans were five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer.

Passages such as this are used to buttress the point that people like Kaepernick are making with respect to police brutality. The problem with this analysis, which compares the numbers of fatalities to population, is that it assumes that each segment of the population commits crimes at the same rate. This isn’t true. From the Post article:

Because detailed FBI data on crime can lag by several years, the most-cited statistics on this point refer to 2009 data. According to that data, out of all violent crimes in which someone was charged, black Americans were charged with 62 percent of robberies, 57 percent of murders and 45 percent of assaults in the country’s 75 biggest counties — despite the fact that black Americans made up just 15 percent of the population in those places.

The following table shows the distributions of violent crimes by race, both of the offender and perpetrator, from 2012-2013, with homicides excluded:

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From that chart, and the Washington Post story, we can glean that black people commit more violent crimes than their 13% population share suggests they should. As a result, we should rationally expect that there will be more run ins with police, and thus more police shootings involving blacks.

Indeed, when comparing the police shootings by race to the violent crimes committed by race, which is the relevant comparison, the distributions match up relatively well.

From the Washington Post quote earlier, from Jan 2015 to July of 2016, 49% of police shootings involved whites, who according to the Bureau of Justice stats from 2012, commit 42% of violent crimes.

24% of police shootings involved blacks, who commit 22% of violent crimes.

27% of police shootings involve the rest of the races, or unknown, a group which according to the Bureau of Justice commits 35% of violent crime.

If anyone should feel aggrieved, its whites, who are shot by police at a higher rate than they commit violent crimes, excluding homicide. Yet that isn’t the narrative.

The Washington Post tries to temper analysis such as that by claiming the crime level in a particular community doesn’t affect the rate at which police kill, and by stressing the fact that unarmed blacks are killed at a greater rate to whites:

Despite these arguments, police reform advocates and researchers as well at The Post’s own analysis has consistently concluded that there is no correlation between violent crime and who is killed by police officers.

 

A 2015 study by a University of California at Davis researcher concluded there was “no relationship” between crime rates by race and racial bias in police killings.

 

….

In a report covering 2015 data, Campaign Zero compared violent crime rates of 50 major cities to the rate at which police officers killed people, concluding that there was no correlation.

 

As part of its data effort, The Post tracks the “threat level” of each person who is shot and killed by a police officer: Were they shooting at the officer? Were they threatening the officer? Were they fleeing?

 

Overall, the majority of the people who have been shot and killed by police officers in 2015 and 2016 were, based on publicly available evidence, armed with a weapon and attempting to attack the officer or someone else.

 

But an independent analysis of The Post’s data conducted by a team of criminal-justice researchers concluded that, when factoring in threat level, black Americans who are fatally shot by police are no more likely to be posing an imminent lethal threat to the officers at the moment they are killed than white Americans fatally shot by police.

 

[Study finds police fatally shoot unarmed black men at disproportionate rates] 

The study also sought to answer whether officers were more likely to shoot and kill someone who is unarmed if the shooting happened to occur in a high-crime area. They concluded that is not the case.

 

“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal-justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors, said in April. “Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed.”

 

“This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”

Regarding the point about there being no correlation between high crime areas and police shootings, that might be true, but it doesn’t show that there is any bias involved in either direction.

As for the unarmed argument, it is riddled with holes. Blacks may be more likely to be ‘unarmed’ when shot by police, but that is hardly the full story. Heather Mac Donald details this in a piece she wrote back in February:

In August of 2015 the Post zeroed in on unarmed black men, who the paper said were seven times more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire. The article noted that 24 of the 60 “unarmed” deaths up to that date — some 40 percent — were of black men, helping to explain “why outrage continues to simmer a year after Ferguson.

 

 

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. It is worth looking at the specific cases included in the Post’s unarmed victim classification in some detail, since that category is the most politically explosive. The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying. At least five black victims had reportedly tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. And two individuals included in the Post’s “unarmed black victims” category were struck by stray bullets aimed at someone else in justified cop shootings. If the victims were not the intended targets, then racism could have played no role in their deaths.

Mac Donald further lists several examples of various incidents in which the perpetrator was literally unarmed, but still posing a threat to the officer in various ways. Perpetrators attacking with their fists, using the officer’s own equipment, or a car were considered unarmed. Innocent victims who may have been caught in crossfire of a police shootout are also included among the unarmed figure. The fact that blacks are more likely to resist arrest or engage in a confrontational manner is why the figures of unarmed black shootings are disproportionately higher.

And what of ‘Driving While Black?’

This was a common refrain uttered after Sandra Bland’s death last year. This goes to the notion that while perhaps police treat all suspects in a similar manner after the interaction has been initiated, there is bias in the choice of police to interact with the population.

In other words, police racial profiling is a big issue. Vox said as much in an article on the subject, stating that black people were more likely to be stopped than whites.

We also know that black drivers are more likely to be stopped by US police. In 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that about 12.8 percent of black drivers reported being pulled over in 2011, while about 9.8 percent of white drivers and 10.4 percent of Hispanic drivers did.

That statement means nothing by itself. It could be, for example, that there are more repeat offenders in the 9.8% of whites who got pulled over, which wouldn’t necessarily mean there was a bias in police stops.

The very study that Vox links to has the following chart, which is more relevant to the point at hand:

contact-with-police

The relevant column is the second column, which shows that whites made up roughly 65% of street stops, and 69% of traffic stops. Blacks made up 12% of street stops and 14% of traffic stops. Hispanics made up 15% of street stops and 12% of traffic stops.

The population distribution of each group is, according to 2010 census data the following: 63.7% white, 12.2% black, 16.3% Hispanic. In short, there is little to no bias shown by police in stopping people. Vox must have missed this chart in the report they cited.

All in all,  there is nothing that shows that there is some sort of bias shown by police officers against blacks which necessitates outrage, let alone public protests from the likes of Colin Kaepernick.

The bottom line is that if you want to avoid being killed by police, you would do well to first avoid committing a crime. Failing that, or perhaps if you find yourself involved in a police stop despite not having committed a crime, avoid confrontational attitudes with the officer, do not resist arrest if it comes to that, and do not try to fight the officer or grab any foreign object in an attempt to injure the officer.

Follow that, and your chances of not becoming another statistic are quite high.

Reality Doesn’t Care About Feelings, Volume 1 – Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic got himself in some hot water with the cultural intelligentsia this week for making some comments related to the subject of equal pay in tennis. He was asked to respond to the remarks made by Indian Wells tournament director and CEO Raymond Moore last Sunday about women’s tennis:

Moore said before the finals that the WTA ‘rides on the coattails’ of the men, and ‘If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.’

In response to a question about Moore, Djokovic engaged in the following exchange:

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Feelings

 

This led to a spate of outrage from the usual suspects over the fact Djokovic did not perfectly conform to the company line when it came to equal pay, and thus was branded a sexist by many outlets. Some of the juiciest cuts of cantankerous complaining were served by Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian, who lamented the fact that while Djokovic has an ‘all-embracing cosmopolitan awareness of issues beyond his own sport,’ he also ‘has a beast button.’

Mitchell struggles with his thoughts throughout the remainder of the piece, seemingly saddened that such a great tennis player could succumb to such ‘disturbing’ points of view. He then pivots to worrying about tennis, sport, and society as a whole, wondering how much sexism there still is in society.

This concern over the wider implication of Djokovic and Moore’s words was a constant in most of the write-ups around the internet. There was an underlying fear that a top player such as Djokovic could even be capable of having such backward thinking in 2016, and the surfacing of that fact potentially threatens the work that women in sport have done to achieve equality.

The bottom line: Women should be paid exactly the same as men without question. To think otherwise in 2016 is absolutely absurd.

 

The Reality

 

Out of all of the hot takes I read on the matter, only Tom Fordyce at the BBC even attempted to address the substance of Djokovic’s point, daring to look at the actual data instead of instantly dismissing Djokovic as some sort of cretin from the 1940s like everyone else did. Despite the evidence going against his prejudice, Fordyce to his credit posted it, although he tried hard to explain why the data doesn’t mean what it says on the surface.

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Fordyce doesn’t believe that the fact that the men drew nearly 600 million more viewers than the women did last year should mean that the men should automatically get paid more. He writes:

That, at best, is only a selective argument. Most tennis fans describe themselves as exactly that – lovers of the game, rather than one tour above the other, with the usual partiality for a particular player more likely to be based around their character and on-court style rather than gender.

It is also only selectively true. As Serena pointed out after her final in California: “Last year the women’s final at the US Open sold out well before the men.”

Most articles on the subject were quick to point out that US Open Women’s final from 2015, which sold out in hours, much faster than the men’s did.

This is explained easily, as the US Open final was likely going to be a historic match. Serena Williams had won the previous three grand slams of 2015, and was heavily favored to do so at the US Open, making her the first player to do so in 27 years. Given that she is also an American, her completing that feat on American soil, while also embroiled in a quest to be the most decorated grand slam player of all time, that final was set to be a once in a lifetime event. It’s no wonder that tickets sold out instantly.

To be sure, when Williams lost in the semifinal, ticket prices for the final on StubHub plummeted between 40% and 75% within minutes. The interest was in Williams creating history, not in women’s tennis in general.

That raises an interesting line of reasoning to traverse. Ultimately, the interest in tennis is what generates revenue, largely via television deals. Given the aforementioned increased viewership for men’s tennis versus women’s tennis, it should follow that the TV deals reflect that. Fordyce mentions this, writing:

Men’s tennis already earns far more from broadcasting rights than the women’s game. The latest WTA media deal is worth £365m over 10 years; Stuart Watts, CEO of ATP Media, is forecasting £904m revenues over same period.

The men’s tour draws more eyeballs, which in turn equates to more advertising, ticket and television revenue, which in turn means higher prize money for the men. There is nothing wrong with this.

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An important detail to point out is that there are mens-only and womens-only tournaments outside of the majors. It is here where the disparity in pay really shows itself. In the major events, pay is more or less equal as a rule, not based on the interest garnered.

Some have claimed this is understandable, given the two tours are mashed together in one setting. The biggest individual personalities, male or female, draw the biggest crowds. There are periods in tennis in which there are more star names on the men’s side than the women’s side and vice versa. There is an argument to be made, then, that in those years in which the women draw more viewers, and thus more revenue, they should command a higher prize pool to reflect that.

In fact, Djokovic was literally asked this in the original exchange, and clearly said that if female players attract more attention, they should be paid more than the men. Yet his unambiguous consistency in this regard, the complete opposite of sexism, was deemed disturbing and evidence of the ‘beast’ within.

When including all of the tournaments, men earn more in prize money because they entertain more eyeballs. Fordyce tries to explain this away, as many do, by saying that it is because of a bias in marketing, and a cultural preference for male sport:

It reflects too a historical cultural predisposition to male sport, the way sports broadcasting is frequently marketed at a predominantly male demographic, how the rest of the mainstream media devotes so much more coverage to men’s sport than women’s and so influences demand.

If only marketers were even-handed in their efforts, the argument goes, people would flock to women’s sports more. The simple truth is that the men offer the better product. That is, men are on the whole better at tennis than women.

In 1998, both Serena and Venus Williams were convinced that they could beat any male player outside of the top 200 in the men’s rankings. Note, already off the bat, they themselves estimate that their vastly superior, all-time great talent in the female game only translated to the equivalent of 200th at best in the men’s game.

They were given an opportunity in the shape of Karsten Braasch, who was ranked 203rd at the time. Preparing for the match with a round of golf and a few beers, he quickly dispatched of both sisters, beating them over two sets while only losing 3 games. The thorough beating led to the sisters calibrating their claims, to perhaps only being able to challenge men outside of the top 350.

This phenomenon has been seen in other sports as well. The US Women’s soccer team, another team who many have highlighted as being injusticed compared to the men despite generating less revenue, regularly lose friendly matches to teams made up of above average 15 and 16 year old boys. These boys are in no way elite on the global stage within their own age group, let alone amongst older players. Yet they have no issue besting the best female players in the world.

The reality is that people flock to the better of two products when both are on offer. The men’s game is better than the women’s, which fully explains the higher draws to the former. I’ve seen remarks in comment sections that this matter could be settled once and for all by not segregating men and women, just having one tournament which all professional tennis players can enter.

This would be disastrous for female players. The current set up for majors for example, is a men’s tournament of the top 32 players, and a women’s tournament of top 32 players. A combined event of the top 64 players would simply be the top 64 men, given the most dominant female player perhaps of all time can’t last with a marginal men’s player.

For the record, I enjoy watching the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and other top women, but the only reason they are afforded the opportunity to earn millions in prize money and endorsements is because of the very recognition of gender differences that some all of a sudden pretend is sexist when it comes to equal pay.

In other words, by segregating men’s and women’s professional tennis, the women are benefited by not being judged to the same exact standard as men are. And this is correct, because men and women are fundamentally different physically. This fundamental difference affects how each gender plays the game, and in turn how much they can draw in terms of revenue. Such realities will never be changed on the basis of baying about equality. Reality always comes out on top.

Speaking of Sharapova, Fordyce points out another inequity – the difference between Sharapova and Williams’ endorsements:

If there is an argument about who is paid what in tennis, it might more profitably be focused on the more jarring incongruities – how Maria Sharapova, who has won a grand total of one set in her past 14 matches against Serena, could nonetheless have yearly earnings that dwarf those of the 21-time Grand Slam singles winner.

In light of Sharapova’s impending drugs ban, those endorsements will surely diminish. However, the disparity in endorsements between Williams and Sharapova is painstakingly obvious to those who deal in reality, versus being caught up in feelings. Observe the following image:

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Sharapova endorses products such as Porsche, Avon, Tag Heuer, and Tiffany & Co. In other words, high end glamour products. Her body type, which is far more feminine than Serena’s, is more conducive to such advertisements, given they heavily rely on image and visual cues. There’s no other reason for it, and it is totally appropriate.

Serena’s unquestionably superior CV doesn’t matter a jot in this instance. You’re buying into an image with respect to these products, not a track record.

In the end, Fordyce points out that sport is one of the few industries which is a true meritocracy. He is right, and that is why at the end of the day, Djokovic is right as well. Whoever draws the biggest crowd should be paid according to that revenue which is garnered. His comments were not sexist, and his subsequent apology tour as a result is unnecessary.

That backtracking is telling, however. Djokovic likely still feels the way he felt in his original comments, but owing to the climate in which he works, standing by them might mean calls for a boycott, pressures on sponsors, and strained endorsement partnerships. His livelihood could be threatened by such overt deviations from the politically correct narrative.

This highlights the fact that the current outrage culture is more controlling and oppressive than anything that came from Djokovic’s mouth last Sunday. The fact that the direction of this oppression is towards the shunning of reality is what should cause worry, not the reality itself.