ONTD Political

Why We Expect Black Football Players To Return From Injury Faster Than White Players

1:10 pm - 11/17/2012

by Barry Petchesky

There's an intriguing study published today in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, called "Racial Bias in Perceptions of Others' Pain." Researchers from the University of Virginia and Northwestern University examined NFL injury reports over two seasons, and noticed something unexpected: black players were expected to return from injury sooner than their white counterparts.

The researchers compiled all official NFL injury reports, filed by the teams, for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. (A full chart of injuries by type can be seen here, and it's interesting enough in its own right. Knees and ankles are far and away the most affected body parts, with lower body injuries making up four of the top five. Head injuries come in 14th, with just 131 instances over two seasons. Things like stingers and back spasms, which would keep the average person in bed and immobile, are almost never listed as valid injuries.)

After controlling for injury type, position, age, and number of years of NFL experience, one variable remained: race. On the injury report scale of "doubtful," "questionable," and "probable," black players were significantly more likely than white players to be predicted to suit up next game. The study doesn't find that they necessarily played more—only that their team expected them to.

Why? That's the question this study attempts to answer. In a series of experiments, researchers showed participants a series of injuries, then asked them to rate how much it would hurt them, on a numerical scale. They were then shown photos of both white and black people, and asked how much the same injuries would hurt these "targets." These experiments, conducted with laymen, nursing students, and registered nurses, of all races, showed consistently that participants believed black people feel quantitatively less pain than white people.

(Actual pain measurements show this isn't the case, obviously.)

Through further experiments, researchers found that the bias wasn't rooted in race alone, but rather perceptions of social status tied in with skin color. "Participants assumed that the Black target was less privileged and faced more hardship than the White target," the study's authors write, and that harder life presumably shields them from things like physical pain.

Like any study, there are nits to be picked. NFL injury reports are notoriously used as gamesmanship, and there are a host of possible factors to be taken into account. But one anomaly points suggests that the researchers are on to something here. Only two types of injuries showed no correlation between a player's race and his next-game status: Concussions and unspecified "illnesses." These are the two conditions that have nothing to do with pain tolerance.


romp 17th-Nov-2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
People who've dealt with hardship experience less pain? The idea being that they're "tough"? Ugh.
bananainpyjamas 17th-Nov-2012 08:03 pm (UTC)
Huh, this is interesting. I'm not surprised by the phenomenon but their explanation isn't what I would expect. I would've guessed it's linked to a perception that black players are more physically gifted and thus naturally tougher (for example, running backs, most of whom are black, are often referred to as "workhorses.")

That people would think black players are, by virtue of their less privileged upbringing, mentally tougher doesn't jive with what I've seen in football. Football media/fans seem quicker to label black players headcases, say they have attitude problems, lack mental toughness, etc.
romp 17th-Nov-2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
That was my reaction too and I think that's why they mention that conditions that aren't about pain tolerance don't show this pattern. We do see this in some couples where the guy goes to bed for days with a cold while the woman when sick doesn't stop running errands, feeding the kids, etc because it won't happen if she doesn't do it.
yeats 17th-Nov-2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
These experiments, conducted with laymen, nursing students, and registered nurses, of all races, showed consistently that participants believed black people feel quantitatively less pain than white people.

i don't buy the study's explanation for the reasoning behind this -- black imperviousness to pain has been a fixture of western discourse of race for centuries. it's part of the system of physiognomical "science" about race. hence why black soldiers were consistently used as "shock troops" in european wars of the twentieth century.
tabaqui 17th-Nov-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Right or wrong about why, the assumption that an injured black person is in 'less pain' just because they're black - an assumption made by nurses? and i guess doctors? - is really friggin' grotesque.

Thinking 'jocks' would *show* less pain than other people, since if you're a jock you're supposed to be all 'tough' and 'manly' - sure. But this? No.

And no - i've never heard this before being applied to people. Animals, yes -by a vet, no less, which made me change vets - but *never* to people.
lantean_breeze 17th-Nov-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
I'm just trying to understand how an "experience" can "shield" someone from feeling physical pain... This is sad.
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