Discrimination? It Isn’t Spelled ‘Kaepernick’

August 9, 2017

“A protest will take place outside of the NFL headquarters in New York City in support of free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The “United We Stand Rally for Colin Kaepernick” will take place on Aug. 23 at the league’s headquarters on Park Avenue.” — ABC-7 News

by Eric Schansberg, Ph.D.

Colin Kaepernick is the latest example of something we’ve seen quite a bit lately in pro football — players who are or do something aside from their productivity on the field, which is part of how they are judged, employed and compensated. (See also: Michael Sams, Ray Rice, Tyreke Hill, Joe Mixon, and Tim Tebow.)

Is this discrimination? To decide, we need to ask two questions: First, what is productivity? And second, what do we mean by various types of discrimination?

First, as for productivity in football, the easiest ways to measure it are by various proxies of individual performance — e.g., completion percentages, TD’s caught, rushing yards per attempt. But these don’t account for important team components. For example, put Tom Brady with the Colts’ offensive line, the Jets’ receivers and a rookie head coach. See what happens.

Those in analytics try to come up with more sophisticated measures. Productivity can go far beyond even such sophisticated measures. In the case of Tebow and especially Kaepernick, bringing some players into the locker room may be divisive. And certainly, having either on your team will invite a media circus. Both of these factors could easily — and dramatically —  reduce team productivity, independent of the merits of having the player on the field.

So, when someone looks at Kaepernick’s numbers — or watches his game — and says that he ought to be an NFL QB, they’re missing the key point that his “productivity” extends far beyond his ability to read defenses, run and throw.

Second, let’s try to be clear about various types of discrimination. Why might Tebow or Kaepernick cause dissension in a locker room? Because other players may discriminate against their views or lifestyle. To what extent should one bow to other players’ preferences to accommodate an individual who is being discriminated against? Not far, apparently.

What if customers have strong preferences? If Tebow is seen as highly favorable by customers, then he becomes more valuable to an owner, e.g., why are the Mets happy to have Tebow playing minor league baseball right now?) In the case of Mixon, Hill and Rice, it’s clear that their antics would cause troubles for a team. In the case of Kaepernick, a lot of customers have a big problem with his views and actions —  and this will necessarily impinge on the company’s bottom line. When should we require owners to take a beating financially — given  reasonable preferences of consumers — to accommodate Mr. Kaepernick.

I’d say, not at all. I’d also note that most of the people who have a problem with Mr. Kaepernick’s inability to make an NFL team have no skin in the game, so they’re not particularly credible. It’s not impressive when you want to take a “moral” stand by spending someone else’s coin.

Eric Schansberg, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is professor of economics at Indiana University Southeast.


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