Implicit Bias Is Implicit

We had a bonus day of Black History Month this year so damnit we're gonna use it to learn about this stuff. I’m going to put my conclusion at the top for those who don’t wish to take a trip through some of my extended thoughts.

Implicit bias.

This year consciously try to avoid engaging in it. Stop and think before you assume a player is “lazy”; is there some degree of positional play that contributed to this? Am I viewing this player through a certain lens, am I committing fundamental attribution error? As benign a behavior as it seems, your fellow fans of color notice and it’s damaging to all of us, even you.

To the pontification!

It’s a natural cognitive function or state of being and key to human survival. Before we dominated the biosphere we often had limited time to make a decision (or die); this meant employing categorizations of pieces of information into a schema, or template to make quick judgements that could save our lives or perhaps ensure the next meal.

Wikipedia describes “Implicit Bias” as: “the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. Implicit stereotypes are shaped by experience and based on learned associations between particular qualities and social categories, including race and/or gender.

Mostly when we discuss implicit bias (IB) it’s in regard to a negative, or – detracting way; but know that IB is pervasive in our cognition and employs the same perception network that attracts us to ripe fruit, symmetrical designs, and even “super normal stimuli” like a 5 gallon tub of mayonnaise (or whatever sort of condiment you enjoy despite knowing there’s no way you’ll use that much before it expires).

So, with enough psych nerd pontification out of way for several articles, how does this relate to soccer? Specifically, how does this relate to Cincinnati soccer? I’m glad you asked! (you didn’t.. but I’m going to tell you anyway). As The Post covered somewhat in a previous article, “The Great White Disappointment” cataloging a few thoughts about the fan reaction from the ill fated Ron Jans. This will be yet another perspective not quite talking about that issue, but around it (because really, it doesn’t matter, the guy is gone), and focusing more on the fan dynamics, which I, personally, find much more engaging (and interesting) #PsychMajor.

IB is not only pervasive in our general cognition, extends to our interpersonal relationships, careers, cultural outlook, and yes, of course, sports. I noticed very early on in my “sports watching” career that a trend developed not even just in the fans, but commentators as well, across many sports. Football (the ‘murican kind), the black quarterback was assumed to be a “double threat”, he was more “athletic”while the white QB was “cerebral”. The white player is passionate and the black player had trouble “controlling his emotions”. Of course, these trends were not
100% of the time, without fail, but as a part-time African American, my worldview is admittedly colored (no pun intended) by lenses of my own experience, my own Implicit Bias.

I noticed during soccer matches, EPL and beyond, much of the same as American sports commentator bias as they described the athletes themselves, as well as disproportionate “blame” for a collaborative play going awry (black player implicated for a either a poorly played ball where but for an alignment of minds would have seen the ball reach the other (white) player, and vice versa), and assigning disproportionate responsibility for a fight or altercation on racial lines.

Ironically having the Ron Jans saga go down during Black History Month we saw many of our fans immediately launch into mental gymnastics on how a white coach saying “nigger” (or maybe it was “nigga”, either way, I doubt Waston gave Ron Jans a “pass”.. can a Costa Rican give someone a “pass” in America? Hmm.. another article perhaps) among other awkward racial faux pas (as detailed in several Dutch publications, MLSPA statements, and by Ron’s own public admission). I had long suspected this behavior present in our fans, largely though observations of conversations and comments around Adi, Djiby, Okoli, etc. (while players like Jimmy who can’t finish, McMahon who was largely a passenger in many matches, Craven who literally elbowed a guy in the face, on purpose, and it wasn’t even the “right guy”, and many other players who look like that kid you knew from Mason got a free pass and even reference), but my suspicions were all but confirmed. We have a sincere issue with IB in our fan base.

Cincinnati in particular has a long and storied history as a city divided both politically, geographically, socioeconomically, and racially. The city is wrought with conflict (and honestly, that’s kinda what I like about it (among other things)), but having already seen comments of Locadia being lazy and casually proclaiming that he’s more interested in his music than playing soccer is a disappointingly consistent refrain among our fans.

As we progress through our young club history in a city with a distinctly imperfect record of tolerance, please do remain mindful of our biases and how they affect those around us. This will become more important as we move into the West End, a black community that has suffered a series of misfortunes worthy of its own ruminations. We must be good stewards of the communities we share.

Happy MLS Season!