NBA scout: African label rare in scouting reports, but ‘typical European’ is not

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A Hawks scouting report on Luol Deng said:

He is a good guy on the cover but he’s an African. He has a little two-step in him = says what you like to hear, but behind closed doors he could be killing you. Con isn’t bad, but it’[end of page] there. African-like, store front looks great but there’s a black market section in the back.

That was troubling, no question. Danny Ferry, at least temporarily and probably longer, is out of work. The fallout could still become much greater.

But is that type of description common in these scouting reports?

An anonymous NBA scout, via Ira Winderman of the SunSentinel:

"I’ve never seen that before, not in a negative way," the veteran of more than three decades in the league said. "You might say a typical ‘European’ player, but ‘African’ has its own special connotation. It’s not neutral, and then there were the subsequent comments.

"I think it’s exceptionally rare. I’ve read hundreds, thousands of scouting reports. At draft time you see all the reports, and this simply does not ring a bell about a racial component. You’re always evaluating character. What’s rare is connecting character to racial stuff. That’s what was so troubling about this."

"Are people going to be more cautious?" the scout said. "I just think it’s rare, because it’s stupid. It’s not good information. It’s bad information."

First of all, the scout is absolutely right that calling someone African as a pejorative is useless. It provides no real insight into the player, and it only furthers improper stereotypes.

But I find it interesting how often ‘typical European’ is thrown around. If that’s used to describe personality, as was the case with Deng and African, it’s inappropriate – and unhelpful for the same reasons “African” was unhelpful for the Hawks in evaluating Deng.

If it’s referring to the style of play, I guess it can be somewhat maybe decent shorthand. Because of rules differences and shared basketball upbringings, European players often fit a certain style on the court. Still, not every European player does, and this is bordering on unhelpful for all the same reasons if it doesn’t cross the helpful/unhelpful line altogether.

But the harm that comes from generalizing a player’s personality by his race far exceeds that harm that come from generalizing a player’s skillset by his continent. (Yes, Africa is also a continent, not a race. But you can bet Deng’s scouting report would have read differently if he were white and from Africa. Black and white Europeans could get the “typical European” label.)

Scouts would do well to sift through these generalizations and describe specifically the players in question. That is their job, after all.