The Selective Desire for Diversity

Current NBA commissioner Adam Silver has recently expressed his views regarding the number of women in referee and coaching positions. At The Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Silver was quoted as saying:

“”It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing. The goal is: Going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league … same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

Some may see this aspiration as ambitious. But what does this message from Silver really reveal about disparities in certain occupations?

First of all, Silver’s claim that there is no physical advantage to being a male referee as opposed to a female appears to be true enough. But why does he assume that this alone would account for the fact that men dominate this profession? After all there’s no physical advantage women have in female dominated professions such as nurses, interior designers and elementary school teachers. Yet those disparities have continued to exist. Clearly other factors than physical ability must be at work in creating the gender over-representation that occur in these fields.

In addition, the desire Silver has for diversity is conveniently applied to those he would oversee as commissioner but not to his own job. Being an older white man himself, Silver took over as league commissioner from David Stern, another older white man. The other commissioners of America’s four biggest sports (Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred and Gary Bettman) are likewise older men who are white. Silver is curiously silent about the lack of diversity that occurs among major sports commissioners in this country.

This omission of the desire for diversity when it comes to one’s own profession (or desired profession) is certainly not specific to Silver. When interviewed by Vermont Public Radio after he declared for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders was asked about how he, as an old white man, could represent “the face of the new Democratic Party.” Sanders replied with:

“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

Sanders, like Silver, is part of an ideology that places diversity as something of premium importance. That is, apparently, unless it comes to their own jobs or to jobs they are aspiring to get. Only then will talent, experience and ability supersede the desire for a “diverse” workforce. Silver and Sanders abide by the philosophy that merit should be the ultimate factor for me, but not for thee.

Whether or not Silver’s desire for a league comprised of 50% of female refs and coaches will remain to be seen. But often times when someone at the top make a demand for diversity, they themselves are far from an example of it. Many times this is likely why the attempt is made in the first place. In our diversity obsessed culture, if those running the show are members of the majority, all effort must be made to make minorities of as many professions as they can. That is, as long as those professions don’t interfere with their reign.

The Principles of Liberty that Apply to the NBA Age Limit

News was made recently in the sports world on two fronts regarding how the NBA will assess the path for elite high school basketball players and what will happen to the controversial “one and done” rule. First, the NBA G-League (essentially the minor league of professional basketball) announced the start of a program that would offer $125,000 contracts to the best high school basketball players in the nation instead of playing in college. While that goes on, league commissioner Adam Silver is trying to reach an agreement with the Players Association on lowering the minimum playing age to 18. The G-League contract program would begin in 2019. The lowering of the age requirement is aimed for the year 2022.

These developments would, of course, have a huge impact on the college basketball game as we know it today. As it stands currently (and has since 2005), the NBA requires those entering the draft to be at least one year out of high school and be at least 19 years old. There had been no realistic alternative to playing basketball in college during this time unless a player was willing to play professionally overseas. The G-League’s program will certainly lure away many of the better high school basketball players from the college game until the NBA drops the age limit and allows those players to enter the draft.

This is all very good news for those like me who have been critical of the NBA’s age requirement and want to see players get paid in some capacity since the NCAA will not allow it. I’ve written about the NCAA, the “one and done” phenomenon and how they relate to the professional game before. What I would like to do here is discuss the libertarian, or free market principles that apply to how the NBA should approach the issue of elite talent coming out of high school. These are the principles that have led me to the conclusion that the NBA was foolish to raise the age above 18 in the first place.

The Right to Your Labor

As an adult, you should have the right to enter into a contract with an organization that is willing to contract with you. Certainly the NBA has the right, as a private entity, to make their minimum age whatever they want. But why should an organization prevent individuals from receiving a contract from those within it (the teams) who would certainly offer it to them? If you truly own your talent, you should be able to use it to your own benefit in a free society.

Rejecting Society’s Obsession with College

When the NCAA is criticized for not allowing their athletes to profit in any way off of the value they clearly provide, a defense that is often made on their behalf is that the athletes are able to get a college education instead. The implication being that what you can learn in college can be equally or even more valuable than an athlete’s professional contract. But this claim ignores the declining value in having a college degree (for those athletes who actually graduate), plus the disinterest or inability that many student athletes have when it comes to benefiting from higher level learning. When going to college becomes a sacred cow, being enrolled in one is never questioned for anyone even if they would be better off contributing to society in other ways.

The claim of wanting elite college basketball players to stay in school has become laughable when other collegiate sports are taken into consideration. Do people care about elite high school baseball players choosing to enter the MLB draft instead of taking a baseball scholarship? The answer would be “no” because college baseball does not cause as much viewership as does March Madness. The desire to keep great college players at the amateur level has more to do with people’s desire to see those players compete at that level for a longer time rather than some kind of alleged commitment to higher education.

There is no Substitute for On-The-Job-Training

It is frequently stated during the debate over whether a collegiate basketball player should declare for the NBA Draft or not that the player should stay in college and “work on his game.” However, this seems curious considering that the college game varies so differently from that of the NBA and that the level of competition leads to very different personnel. In fact, according to the NCAA’s own statistics, only about 1.2% of collegiate basketball players will even make it to the NBA level. So why does it benefit an athlete trying to succeed at the professional level if they are going to continue competing in an organization where the overwhelming majority aren’t good enough to play at level in the first place? Clearly the best place to develop your NBA skills is in the NBA. While there, an athlete is able to compete against the individuals that he is trying to improve himself against. The style of play and the level of athleticism work to mold the athlete into someone who can succeed on the highest level. Claiming that trying to do this against an inferior level of talent is more beneficial makes very little sense.

For all of these reasons, those of us who embrace liberty should be encouraged by these developments. Both the G-League’s proposal and the lowering of the age for NBA draftees will go a long way in ending the NCAA’s stranglehold on top level talent that it isn’t willing to compensate. Sure, these two occurrences will cause a decline in the level of talent featured in college basketball. But considering the ongoing resistance to paying the players that so many have profited off of, it’s more than appropriate to say that this has been a long time coming.