Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Determinants of Tribunal Outcomes for Indigenous Footballers

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Determinants of Tribunal Outcomes for Indigenous Footballers

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper reports on a study that examined whether football tribunal members" judgments concerning players' alleged misdemeanours on the sporting field are likely to be shaped by extra-evidential factors that disadvantage players from Indigenous backgrounds. Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian Football League (AFL) players, matched in terms of their typical levels of confidence and demeanour in public situations, were interrogated in a mock tribunal hearing about a hypothetical incident on the football field. The specific aim was to determine if the pressures of such questioning elicited behavioural differences likely to be interpreted as indicative of testimonial unreliability. Mock tribunal members (number = 103) then made judgments about the degree to which a number of behavioural characteristics were evident in the players' testimonies. Under intense interrogation, Indigenous players were judged as presenting less confidently and displaying a greater degree of gaze aversion than non-Indigenous players. These behavioural characteristics are commonly--and inappropriately--used as cues or heuristics to infer testimonial accuracy. The paper discusses the implications for Indigenous players appearing at tribunal hearings--and for the justice system more broadly.

Introduction

Indigenous Australians are strongly represented in the leading Australian rules football competition and in many subsidiary competitions. At the elite level, especially, disciplinary tribunal hearings and outcomes for players charged with offences committed on the football field can shape the livelihoods of individual players and clubs, as well as the perceptions that the sporting public have of those players, their clubs and (quite likely) their cultural groups. This project focused on whether tribunal members' judgments concerning players' alleged misdemeanours on the sporting field are likely to be shaped by extra-evidential factors that disadvantage some players, particularly players from Indigenous backgrounds. Prior to the commencement of this project, this possibility had been highlighted in prominent newspaper articles (e.g. Adelaide Advertiser, 31 May 2004:54; October 2005) in which comparative outcome data for Indigenous and non-Indigenous footballers who had appeared before the AFL Tribunal were presented.

We are not aware of any empirical work on how evidential and extra-evidential factors shape sporting tribunal decision making. But there is extensive literature on how such factors operate in other social persuasion and judgment contexts, such as the jury decision-making context. One typical methodological approach in that domain is to conduct a simulated or mock trial where mock jurors observe the usual courtroom processes involving judge, lawyers, witnesses and so on. Although nowhere near as complex as real trials, the evidence often indicates quite impressive convergence in the pattern of results for simulated and real trials (Kerr and Bray 2005; Rose and Ogloff 2001), indicating that such simulations can, indeed, provide valuable data. This methodological approach was used in the present research.

Using such approaches, studies of the impact of ethnic identity or ethnic group on jury decision making produce mixed results, with minority ethnic group defendants sometimes judged more harshly than majority or same-ethnic group defendants, and sometimes not (see overview from Levett et al. 2005; Mazzella and Feingold 1994). Sometimes harsher penalties are administered when the crime is associated with a racial stereotype (Mazzella and Feingold 1994). There is, however, evidence that variables such as ethnic group, gender, expert status and attractiveness are more likely to exert an influence when the 'hard' evidence does not unambiguously or decisively favour a particular verdict (for a more detailed discussion, see Brewer and Hupfeld 2004).

While ethnic group effects on jury decision making have not been shown to be ubiquitous or necessarily powerful, one variable that consistently exerts a strong influence on juror judgments is the confidence with which a witness's testimony is presented (whether it be testimony from an independent witness or the defendant). …

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