Discrimination in a rank order contest: Evidence from the NFL draft

NFL player holding the ball, waiting to dash forward
Alex Bryson
Friday 30 Sep 2022, 11:00 - 12:00
Mandeville Building
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NFL player holding the ball, waiting to dash forward

This paper examines the role that racial discrimination plays in the NFL draft. The NFL is a favourable empirical setting to examine the issue because franchise selectors are required to make rank-order judgements of players based on noisy signals of future productivity.

Since wages are tightly related to the rank-order of the draft for the first four years of a players career, even if racial bias plays only a marginal role in selection, there could be a large discriminatory impact.

We observe large unadjusted racial differences in drafting. However, much of the variation can be explained by Black and White players selecting into different playing positions. Conditional upon a large set of control variables, including athletic performance at a marque selection event (i.e., the NFL combine), we do not find robust evidence of racial discrimination in NFL drafting between 2000 and 2018.


Jan van Ours, Thomas Peeters, Stefan Szymanski, Francesco Principe and Sam Hoey

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