Two TrueHoop Notes

I’m unhappy that the Red Wings are losing their series against Nashville, so I’m going to take it out on TrueHoop.  Namely, the articles about Andrew Bynum/Pau Gasol’s three point shooting and the issue of gender from today’s bullets.

First up, should Pau Gasol be shooting three pointers when Andrew Bynum isn’t supposed to?  The article linked from TrueHoop seems to say ‘probably’, since Gasol shoots better than Bynum.  Statistically though, the answer isn’t so clear.  For his career, Gasol is 26 of 110 (23.6%) while Bynum is 1 for 9 (11.1%).  That would seem to be a big difference, but a chi-square test and Fisher’s exact test agree that they aren’t significantly different.  Bynum simply hasn’t taken enough threes for us to have a good idea of how well he shoots.

That being said, there’s probably a good reason to think Gasol should get away with a few threes while Bynum shouldn’t, and that’s because Gasol actually shoots from range once in a while.  You can look at Bynum and Gasol’s shot locations at hoopdata.  In his most prolific season, Bynum only took 2.5 shots (per 40 minutes) from outside 10 feet.  And in his best season, he hit them about 40% of the time; usually it’s more like 30%.  Gasol, on the other hand, has averaged at least 3.7 shots from outside 10 feet in any given season and his worst percentage was around 40%.  So Gasol is asked to shoot from outside once in a while, and he has shown he’s capable of it.  Bynum doesn’t have that credibility yet.  Maybe if he earns it he can start taking threes.

Henry also asked about gender in sports; namely, why does it come up and who needs to know?  The linked article refers to the internet and someone being disqualified from Miss Universe because she was born a man.  Those particular domains strike me as perfectly reasonable; there’s no need to worry about if someone was born 100% male or female a lot of the time.

However, sports is an exception.  One of the key aspects of sports is the issue of fairness; sports are defined by the rules for the game.  Obviously, a big concern in sports has been steroids and other enhancing drugs.  They are viewed as unfair because they give someone an advantage over the other athletes (whether they should be treated this way or not is a different argument; the point is that they’re currently viewed as cheating).  They do this by changing a person’s biology to allow them to be physically superior.  A person who undergoes a sex-change procedure could potentially fall into the same category.  A man who joins into a female sport has a physical advantage; that’s why men are rarely allowed into female leagues.  A man who has undergone an operation to become a woman could still have an ‘unfair’ advantage if her original biology gives her that physical advantage.

I think a related case is Oscar Pistorious, who wanted to run in the Olympics but wasn’t originally allowed to because of his prosthetics.  The issue isn’t so much that people don’t want to race against an amputee (although that could be part of it; losing might be extra embarrassing), but that people don’t want the amputee to get an unfair advantage from what he does to ‘be normal’.  Look at the Boston Marathon results from today: the wheelchair winner finished in nearly 60% of the time of the men’s winner.  Should wheelchair participants be disallowed from the marathon?  No, they just need to keep their results separate because they have an advantage over the runners.  Pistorious had to go through arbitration to have his prosthetic legs allowed because they didn’t give him any particular advantage.  Athletes are allowed to compete when the playing field is level for everyone in the league.

I think that if ‘indeterminate gender’ people, as the Australian government is now calling them, want to compete in sports they should be allowed to.  But, they would need to undergo some kind of testing to make sure they don’t have an unfair advantage.  A male-to-female athlete, for example, would need to demonstrate that she doesn’t have higher testosterone levels than the women she was competing against; a female-to-male athlete would have to show that he wasn’t taking too much as part of the procedure.  Pistorious went through the same process with his legs and didn’t run last Olympics only because he didn’t qualify; it sounds like he will get to run this year.

Or, governing bodies could decide to allow ‘cheating’ and not worry about it.  Let people take steroids, HGH, whatever they want; let anyone play who can keep up with the competition.  The people who can cut it will stay in the leagues.  In the meantime, people in charge of sports leagues should want to know the gender of their athletes.

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