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Out Of Bounds: New Research On Race And Paying College Athletes



With college basketball in its March frenzy, a new angle on the old question of whether NCAA players should get paid.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: For the championship - yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We prevent these gifted kids from being able to earn any money.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You don't deserve the revenue.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I see my name being used to profit somebody else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A new study suggests opinion on this debate could be shaped by racial prejudice. In today's edition of Out Of Bounds, we talk to the study's co-author Tatishe Nteta. He was driving to his job one day at the University of Massachusetts Amherst when he heard a radio commentator slam the idea of paying college athletes. He heard hints of racial bias. Being a social scientist, Nteta wanted to test his hunch. He devised a survey that weighed variables like age, sex and interest in college sports and negative attitudes towards African-Americans, a measure he calls racial resentment. Then Nteta crunched the numbers.

TATISHE NTETA: We found that race was the strongest explanation of white opposition to pay for play.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was it surprising that race came into this debate?

NTETA: That was surprising. We actually - I didn't think we would find what we found in terms of the impact of race. But also shocking was the impact of attendance at a Power Five school. So we found, amongst our respondents who attended these Power Five schools, which are just simply schools from conferences that have high-powered college football and college basketball teams, that attendance at this school actually leads to stronger opposition to pay for play.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So can you just break it down for us? When you say that there's racial resentment...

NTETA: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Over these issues, what does that mean? Is that something that they're conscious of or not? I mean, what can you extrapolate from that?

NTETA: Racial resentment is a new way to measure what is negative attitudes or negative affect towards African-Americans. And it's based not on the notion that blacks are biologically inferior but that they violate cherished values, values like hard work and meritocracy and respect for authority. So there are a number of different ways of measuring this.

so it's more subtle, this animus towards African-Americans, but it's animus nonetheless. So they'll ask questions like the Irish and the Italians and Jews faced discrimination but worked their way up to success. African-Americans should do the same. And you agree, or you disagree? And so agreeing with that sentiment would be an indication of racial resentment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And in this scenario, to do with this particular issue, the idea's that somehow they don't feel that African-Americans are deserving of the money...

NTETA: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And that they won't, I guess, use it in the correct way?

NTETA: If we really want to drill down - and to be fair, we don't have the specific answer to your question with our data - but if you really want to drill down, I think that's what's going on here is that there's a long history in political science of whites, when faced with policies in which African-Americans are the beneficiaries or African-Americans are the targets, their negative views of African-Americans tend to be a good measure of understanding their opposition to these particular policies.

So for instance, something like welfare reform - welfare reform is ostensibly not a racial policy. However, when you think about the individuals who are most likely to be on welfare, the picture that comes to your head is of usually an African-American and usually of an African-American woman. And so study after study have found that negative attitudes towards African-Americans affect your attitudes regarding welfare reform.

So we believe that pay for play is very similar. If you just look at the percentage of African-American men in college basketball and college football, they far outdistance any other group. The picture in your head when you come to think about pay for play in terms of who will benefit if there's a change to the policy are going to be young African-American men. So for some whites, this is a subliminal connection. They're not aware. It's implicit. And for others, it's more explicit. They don't want African-Americans to benefit financially in this sense, and they use those attitudes to sort of frame, or structure, their opinion on pay for play.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tatishe Nteta is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Thanks so much for being with us.

NTETA: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.