Mission Impossible: African-Americans & analytics

Shorter Michael Wilbon: Blacks aren’t good at math. Prefer feels.

ESPN has dropped its middlebrow Grantland approach and gone instead with the black Undefeated site.

From ESPN:

The mission was to find black folks who spend anytime talking about advanced analytics, whose conversations are framed by — or even casually include references to — win shares or effective shooting percentage, WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) or points per 100 possessions. It’s a failed mission so far. Totally empty. Conclusion: Advanced analytics and black folks hardly ever mix. Set aside the tiny handful of black men who make a living somewhere in the sports industry dealing directly with the numbers and there is absolutely zero mingling.

Log onto any mainstream website or media outlet (certainly any program within the ESPN empire) and 30 seconds cannot pass without extreme statistical analysis, which didn’t exist 20 years ago, hijacking the conversation. But not in “BlackWorld,” where never is heard an advanced analytical word. Not in urban barbershops. Not in text chains during three-hour games. Not around office water coolers. Not even in pressrooms or locker rooms where black folks who make a living in the industry spend all day and half the night talking about the most intimate details of sports.

Let’s take the Golden State Warriors locker room, for example. I thought the complete stiff-arming of the statistical revolution might very well be generational. Old black folks don’t, but younger black folks might.


I asked Draymond Green, the Warriors star whose new-age game is constantly being defined statistically, if he engages in any advanced analytics conversation either professionally or personally. His answer was emphatic.

Draymond Green playing by feel.”

“No. Neither. Professionally, I play completely off of feel. I hear people discussing my game in terms of all these advanced numbers. I have no part of it,” Green said. “Even paying attention to it, from a playing standpoint, would make me robotic and undermine my game. I’m supposed to step back behind the line in real time to avoid taking a ‘bad two’? That’s thinking way too much. I don’t get the fascination at all.”

…My friend Larry Irving, a black Stanford lawyer and the most rational person I know — except when it comes to his New York Knicks fandom — said our complete withdrawal from statistical analysis is based on our emotional tie to the game.

“Sports is emotional. And analytics represent the absence of emotion, the antithesis. Nobody gets into sports to be dispassionate. And it just seems to me we are the feel it, smell it, touch it people,” he said. “WHIP and WAR [wins above replacement] and win shares are completely antiseptic. I mean, the coach may use analytics to confirm, but you mean to tell me Knute Rockne couldn’t tell whether the boy could play without some advanced analytics expert telling him?”

The thing is, that could also open the door to the issue of emotion vs. intellect. That is a thin and sensitive line to navigate, especially given the outrage people of color feel when others suggest we’re more emotional than rational about sports. But it’s an inescapable subtopic if dealing with 360 degrees of this. Without question, the emotional appeal of sports resonates with black people, whether we’re talking about the first end-zone dancers, the first high-five, the guttural releases after dunks and quarterback sacks and even putts made, that simply weren’t a noticeable part of sports before the emergence of the black athlete and legions of black fans who followed. It would take a greater and more in-depth discussion than this to figure out the reasons we, black people, are most attracted to sports other than the winning and losing, and where the emotional connection is on that spectrum.

Comments at Steve Sailer:

* Your general point is correct about Negros’ feeling of entitlement to control white language, but in this case there may be an additional factor. I’m not watching the series, but yesterday on the golf course an avid Warriors fan, 84 years old, told me that Adams has regularly been blocking Green’s shots. Blacks feel that b-ball is “their” game, thus for a White to block a Black star’s shot is an unforgivable affront. I first saw this in a high school game in 1971 in SF, when a 5’4″ black point guard slapped a white forward’s face after getting his shot blocked. It’s possible Green cares less about being called a monkey than about being “shown up” by a stale pale Australian.

* Whitlock was dumped from ESPN after failing to get The Undefeated off the ground after 3 years.

He doesn’t much care for Coates either:

SN: Why is there acrimony between you and celebrated author/journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates? Did you make a mistake with him in your recruiting effort for “The Undefeated?”

Whitlock: Glad to clear this up. I was brought back to ESPN in August of 2013. I reached out to Coates via email in November of 2013. We had a brief 15- to 20-minute phone conversation. I was effusive in my praise of his writing talents. He expressed he was uninterested in leaving “The Atlantic.” It was an exploratory, respectful conversation. I had no job to offer at the time. I wasn’t authorized to hire anyone. My first priorities were Jesse Washington and Mike Wise, two of my collaborators. It wasn’t until the Fall of 2014 and the new fiscal year that I was given the greenlight to hire anyone. My first two hires were Amy Barnett and Danielle Cadet. My next hires were in December of 2014 when I began reporting to Marie Donoghue. That’s when we were able to land Washington and Wise. In May of 2014, I emailed Coates to tell him how much I enjoyed “The Case For Reparations.” I asked him to do a podcast interview. He said he would try to accommodate my request. It didn’t happen. I left him alone. Zero hard feelings. In 2015, stories started popping up referencing his friends/surrogates about how he turned me down for a job and how I offered to triple his salary. Then he later analogized me to a drug dealer during a radio interview. Then I made the mistake of purchasing and reading “Between the World and Me,” his bestselling book. It’s a hopeless, God-less, Marxist book that allegedly is written for the edification of young black people. Any understanding and appreciation of the magnificent and courageous African-American journey is respectful of our relationship with religion and a Higher Power. What’s between the world and Ta-Nehisi Coates is an understanding of the power of prayer, hope, faith and Jesus. Feeding young people a beautifully written and seductive hopeless ideology is wishing destruction on them. The book helped me fully understand what he represents. Coates’ pro-black shtick is how elitist, Talented Tenth-believing black people try to be pro-black. They use their platforms to whine publicly about the harrowing, state-sanctioned plunder they suffered while purchasing a $2 million home. That’s not hate. I live a pampered life, too. I just try to have enough self-awareness to know my 1-percent problems are unworthy of a full column on a major media platform. I thought and think Coates would benefit greatly from working in a black media environment. His ideas need to be vigorously challenged by black people, particularly those of us who realize the danger of separating faith from fate.

* I follow Nate Silver on Twitter. You’d think that maybe people in love with data and statistics would have heretical thoughts, but whenever he gives his opinion it’s all racism this and sexism that.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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