Explaining Bias in Response to Hill’s “The Linsanity Sham”

November 30th, 2012 | Categories: Uncategorized

In a recent article titled, “The Linsanity Sham” on The Huffington Post Marc Lamont Hill writes about the basketball player Jeremy Lin. Hill concludes, “the truth is that Jeremy Lin can’t play.” Although the phenomenon known as Linsanity suggested otherwise, Hill provides several reasons why he thinks so many people were mistaken about Lin’s talent. Ne reason he provides is bias. Hill argues that players on opposing teams simply did not work as hard to beat Lin because they never imagined he was an exceptional athlete. Instead, because they viewed Lin as an Asian basketball player, they did not consider him as a serious competitor on the court.

To bolster his point Hill provides statistics from Lin’s current season with the Houston Rockets and his previous season with the New York Knicks. This evidence is suspect, however, considering Hill claims Lin’s performance in his infamous 14 games as a Knick was luck and, yet, his record in the first 14 games of Lin’s season with the Houston Rockets is testament to his true ability. Fourteen games is hardly enough to make such strong claims either way.

Incredulity about Lin’s performance notwithstanding, Hill may have a point about bias affecting how Lin is viewed. However, this bias is a more complicated process than Hill suggests and can be traced back to the concepts of ingroups and outgroups.
A recent study by the National Basketball Association showed that 82% of its players are black. As the majority group in the NBA, blacks represent the ingroup. People associate positive attributes to ingroup members, which in this case means black basketball players are characterized as being exceptional athletes. Once a population has ingroup status, those who are not members of that group are viewed as part of the outgroup and perceived as inferior. In the realm of basketball Lin is in the outgroup because he is Asian-American. This helsp explain why college and professional scouts overlooked Lin for so long despite his early successes.

Stereotypes against Asians compound Lin’s outgroup status on the court. The most common stereotypes of Asians in America portray them as intelligent but short and unathletic. Since basketball is a sport that favors taller players, stereotypes of Asians make them appear to be ill-suited for basketball. These biased views exist despite numerous successful Asian athletes.
This is because when Asian athletes achieve at high levels it reinforces the stereotype. The most exceptional outgroup members are treated as exceptions that prove the stereotypes true. So, 10 time M.L.B. All Star Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, 3 time Olympic gold medalist Chinese gymnast Yang Wei, and Korean born 4 time N.F.L. Pro Bowler Hines Ward are viewed as rarities that succeed despite the odds being against them.

Thus, Asian born N.B.A. players like Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi, and Yi Jianlian further fuel Asian stereotypes. All three are at least 7 feet tall, which is unusual for any racial group. Yet, their success bolsters the perception that only the anomalies of the outgroup can succeed. This reinforces the stereotype that the average members of the group would not be able to perform as well as ingroup members.

Unlike many other Asian and Asian-American athletes, Lin was able to transition into the ingroup by gaining his popularity as a media figure during Linsanity. Lin earned status as a member of the ingroup of “N.B.A. players” while retaining his ingroup status in his Chinese-American and, more broadly, Chinese ethnic and Asian racial ingroups. People who belong to any of these groups can claim Lin as their own. Hence those that appreciate the ingroup of “N.B.A. players”, can bond with Jeremy Lin on that basis, but Lin also enjoys an extra advantage of appealing to people who identify with “Chinese-Americans,” “Chinese,” or “Asians.” Lin’s Rockets contract is good evidence to claim Lin has indeed made it into the ingroup.

However despite his ability to claim ingroup status, he does not seem to be performing at his previous levels. Hill takes his shot at explaining why. It is of course possible that some Knicks opponents did not play their most competitive because their bias caused them to underestimate Lin as hill argues. But this argument can be used to dismiss any player in an outgroup with an exceptional season. And when you start to think about it, it begins to sound a bit like the parent consoling their child about losing by saying, “the other child only won because they were taking it easy on him.” It also begins sounds like the argument against affirmative action that the “only” reason a minority candidate got a particular position is because of affirmative action not because he or she deserved it.

By using his argument about bias Hill attempts to pull Lin back into the outgroup griping that Lin never deserved his ingroup status in the first place. Despite his effort, Hill does not offer enough evidence to make his argument persuasive. Instead, the article reads like Hill suffers from the same bias that he accuses last season’s Knicks opponents of having- an inability to view Lin as an exceptional athlete.

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