Discrimination against Europeans in the National Hockey League: Are Players Getting Their Fair Pay?

By Bruggink, Thomas H.; Williams, Daniel | American Economist, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Discrimination against Europeans in the National Hockey League: Are Players Getting Their Fair Pay?

Bruggink, Thomas H., Williams, Daniel, American Economist

I. Introduction

For decades French Canadian professional hockey players have faced salary discrimination, allegedly because their language, history, politics, and playing style are different from the more dominant English Canadian players. More recently a large migration of European hockey players has found homes on National Hockey League teams. They suffer the same differences: Europeans come from a different culture, possess a different history, and speak a different language. Do they also face salary discrimination? This paper attempts to answer this question.

Finding evidence of salary discrimination in the workplace is difficult. Without a measure of worth tied to a specific contribution, wage discrimination is confounded by difficult-to-measure differences in talent and performance across workers. However, the sports industry does not suffer from a paucity of data. Voluminous statistics on player performances are now used to show high correlations of player performances with salaries and team winning percentages. For these reasons there have been many studies of discrimination in sports with a level of precision not found elsewhere. Most involve racial discrimination against African Americans in professional baseball, football, and basketball. In hockey the focus is on French Canadian players, and only recently has the issue of discrimination against European hockey players surfaced.

Europeans in the National Hockey League are not a new phenomenon. But European presence in the NHL was very small, at most 10% even as late as 1989 (Lavoie and Grenier, 1992). This all changed after 1989 when the Cold War ended abruptly. The liberation of former Soviet satellite countries opened borders, and a new supply of hockey talent from Russia, East Germany, and the Czech Republic became available to the NHL. The European presence has now exploded to the level where nearly one third of all players are European. This result could be alarming and possibly even threatening to owners, players, and fans that do not want to see so many native born North Americans lose their places on team rosters.

Again, because hockey is seen as a Canadian game, it seems that Europeans would be more likely to suffer from pay discrimination in Canada than in the United States. Some influential hockey experts in Canada consider that NHL European players are stealing the jobs of honest hard working Canadian players (Lavoie, 2000, p. 403).

This quote reflects the most likely cause of the discrimination that we examine in this study. The paper is organized as follows. In Section II we review the discrimination literature in the NHL, mostly of the French Canadian variety. In Section III the wage model and sample selection are described. Section IV provides the empirical results from the regression analysis. Section V offers the overall conclusion.

II. Literature Review

Extensive research on the issue of discrimination against French Canadian players have generally found both wage and roster discrimination, although the results are mixed (Marple, 1975; Jones and Walsh, 1988; Lavoie and Grenier, 1992; Walsh, 1992; McLean, 1992; Lavoie, Grenier, and Coulombie, 1992; and Longley, 1995) However, in the most recent wave of hockey studies, discrimination against has been more carefully investigated. The earlier literature which focused only the ethnicity of the player and not the interaction between a player's country of origin and the location of his team. Lavoie (2000) found fan induced wage discrimination against all non-local players, and this was particularly evident in English Canada. He also noted that French players in the English Canadian media are criticized "three times more often than English players for what might be called character defects" (p. 403). In other studies Longely (2000, 2003) and Lavoie (2003) found roster discrimination against French Canadians on English Canadian teams.

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