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Is Affirmative Action Analogous to Setting Quotas for White Players in the NBA?
The NBA analogy doesn’t even apply because that is not how affirmative action even works. All affirmative action recipients must be qualified for their jobs. Besides, the fact that blacks overcome their social disadvantages to dominate in the NBA is no justification for keeping them disadvantaged. The argument that it’s wrong to give whites an even greater advantage to make up for their lack of merit is irrelevant. If blacks got an equal start in life, they might even dominate the NBA more than they do now. The fact that they don’t is a further injustice to their merit.
This is a prize piece of rhetoric among anti-affirmative critics. Teams in the National Basketball Association select their players based on merit. For some reason, blacks have come to represent the vast majority of players in the NBA, even though they form only 12 percent of the U.S. population. If we were to impose racial quotas on the NBA to make the teams resemble a cross-section of society, we would be throwing more talented black players off the teams and replacing them with less talented white players. Obviously, that would be an injustice.
However, this example is a parody of affirmative action, and is so wrong as to be irrelevant.
If affirmative action were truly applied to the NBA, then a study would be done to determine the percentage of qualified players from each race. Although 75 percent of the male population is white, and 12 percent black, the study would probably find that 90 percent of the qualified players are black, and only 10 percent white. It would then set an affirmative action goal of 90 percent black and 10 percent white players, and ask the team-owners to conduct a good-faith effort to meet these goals. Penalties would be incurred only if a racist team insisted on 100 percent black players, and a blatant case of discrimination could be proven.
We could quit here, but it is also worthwhile to address the point that critics of affirmative action thought they were making with this example. And that is that it’s wrong to deny top jobs to the most qualified in the name of racial fairness.
However, the NBA example fails to make even this point. To see why, imagine that you have been asked to preside as a judge at a track-and-field event. Two sprinters, Joe and David, are going to compete in a 200-meter dash. Because you are a finish-line judge, your judging box is at the finish line, and you can’t see the starting conditions of the race very well. Now suppose the starting gun goes off, and about 20 seconds later Joe and David come flying by. Joe wins the race, and you declare him the winner.
However, suppose a starting-line judge then approaches you and confides that he is suspicious of the starting line positions. Officials remeasure the length of the sprinting lanes, and find that Joe has actually run 190 meters to David’s 200 meters. Obviously, the race results should be invalidated, because the race was unfair.
But what if the starting-line judge told you that Joe had actually run 210 meters to David’s 200 meters? In that case, it’s clear that Joe is still the faster sprinter, because he won despite his disadvantage.