If a 1988 academic study holds true, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have more than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews to contend with in this year’s Super Bowl.
The study, The Dark Side of Self- and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports, found that teams such as the Steelers, which wear black uniforms, are more likely to be penalized than those with lighter jerseys.
The researchers, Mark G. Frank and Thomas Gilovich, examined the penalty records of all NFL teams from 1970 to 1986 and found that the five teams which wore black uniforms were the five most penalized. They then theorized that the extra penalties stemmed from perceptions about the color black since it generally is associated with evil.
“Because referees are also likely to associate the color black with evil and aggressiveness, they may view any given action as more malevolent if it is performed by a player in a black uniform,” they wrote in an article published in the Journal of Personality and Psychology. “Thus, players in black uniforms may not simply play the game more aggressively, but may simply be more likely to be penalized for actions that would be ignored if performed by players wearing nonblack uniforms.”
Frank and Gilovich put their theory to a test by having a group of former high school and college football players stage two versions of two different plays. The only difference was that the defensive team wore black uniforms in one version and white in the other. Next, 20 experienced high school and college referees were asked to watch a videotape of the plays and indicate if they would have called any penalties. According to the study, the results showed that “the referees were more inclined to penalize the defensive team if they saw the black versions of the two plays.”
Hopefully, the winner of the Super Bowl will be determined by the men who play the game and not the referees. But should the Steelers need to make a case against a game-changing penalty call, the men in black will have academic research on their side.
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