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You’re Being Divisive! Or, Why Counting Things is Good

December 6, 2021
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Exploring the issue of whether statistical analysis is being divisive or providing quality information, Diversity Atlas’ Cultural Attache Quincy Hall compares counting goals with counting people.

On Sunday 25 July 2021, in front of no crowd (Covid), my football team the Richmond Tigers lost to the Geelong Cats by 38 points.  The final score was:

Geelong:  15 goals, 5 behinds: 95 pts.

Richmond:  8 goals, 9 behinds: 57 pts.

For our international readers, in AFL scoring, a goal is worth six points, and a behind is worth one.

Afterwards, I jumped on social media to see how the fans were coping, and they were all quite stoic and at times positive which was nice to see. 

Some actual comments

“The boys didn’t give up, they tried until the end.”

“Can’t change the result, so learn from it and move on to the next game.”

“Considering the injuries, we did well… you have made us proud, go Tigers!”

Now, if someone who wasn’t aware of the result were to have asked me at the time who won the match, and I said that Geelong won by 38 points, but added in that Jack Riewoldt kicked two of our goals and our captain Trent Cotchin kicked one goal and that person said, “You’re being divisive!  It doesn’t matter who kicked the goals, all that matters is the result,” then that person is acting weird.  It’s part of the statistical examination of a match!  We kicked eight goals, here’s who kicked them… that’s not being divisive, that’s just running stats.  

Luckily, nobody is weird enough to claim that publishing statistics on a spreadsheet is being divisive.  Most people understand that statistical analysis of a football match or a company’s sales performance is just normal behaviour for rational humans.  

As a fan of football and a fan of statistics, the sports media does a great job catering to my interests.  After the match, I love nothing more than scrolling through all the statistics and data and looking at who had the most ‘metres gained’, who had most disposals, most tackles and so on.  If you go to the AFL site there’s endless stats on every match…  I’ve put a screengrab below from this match that shows how Liam Baker had 4 ‘inside 50s’, Trent Cotchin had 4 x CCs and Shai Bolton had 5 x CPs.  Note:  I have no idea what a CC or a CP is, but I’m sure the clubs do.  ‘Contested Possessions’ perhaps?  Christmas Presents?  I don’t know, but Shai had five of them.  

The clubs need this data to appraise the performance of their players, and they use this data to plan ahead, both short-term and long-term.  It’s the same in any organisation, it’s just that sports organisations often share the data with the public.  But there’s also going to be heaps of other data the teams track on their players that isn’t necessarily advertised, but are important nonetheless.  No matter what professional sport it is, the management will know the following about their players.

Player stats

  • Height and weight
  • Age
  • Education
  • Fitness levels
  • Blood pressure and heart-rate
  • Cultural background
  • Religious affiliation
  • Family
  • Current mood
  • Injury status

…and no doubt stacks more.  Knowing your team enables you to build success for reasons that are self evident.

Divisive statistics

Which brings me to this one piece of data that makes people go weird.  The reason I brought up this otherwise meaningless football match that took place almost six months ago is that Richmond Football Club had one thing to boast about after that otherwise gloomy match.  They set a statistical club record on one particular metric, and they jumped on social media to celebrate it.  Here’s a photo of it:

I saw that picture and it made me very proud of my club. In fact, if we had’ve been able to field one more Indigenous Australian player that day we’d have equalled an AFL record.  Still, setting a club record of seven was something worth celebrating and promoting internally and externally, given the contribution to our sport Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders have made during the past 100 years or more, and especially given all the socio-economic and geo-political traumas that as a nation we need to address and overcome that (to their credit) the AFL are tackling head-on (sometimes poorly, sometimes belatedly, but still, they’re doing better than many other industries).  

And so did my fellow Tiger fans on social media agree with me?

“”Why do we need to count these guys as different from other Aussies?  This is what keeps the rubbish of ‘us and them’ going.  Stop it.”

“I think these players are great, but why continually identify them as indigenous?  I believe this is promoting racism.”

“It should be celebrated that they were selected on ability, not their heritage.”

“Why do we have to label them as aboriginal players, they are Richmond players…”


Super weird.

Is Jenny Being Divisive?

On winter Friday nights I like to watch the footy.  My partner Jenny has no interest and instead watches sci-fi.  Is she being divisive by being different?  No.  In fact, we’re creating TV-diversity in the house, and our kids growing up will see that there’s more than one option to visually occupy tired grown-ups on a Friday night.  

So why is it being divisive pointing out that seven players are Indigenous Australians?  Short answer is:  it’s not being divisive, it’s being normal.  

I just don’t get it.  To me it’s as ludicrous as saying that the goal-kicker stat is creating an ‘us and them’ mentality towards defenders, or identifying the average age of the players is somehow being ageist.  What is it about simply running a count on cultural, ancestral or ethnic identity and expression that causes people to fume and rant and feel the need to jump onto Facebook and tell everyone about it, often in ALL CAPS?  

My anecdotal observation is the vast majority of naysayers are white heterosexuals (disclaimer: I am one too) and the reasons for that seem to be obvious.  We’re the majority, the ‘norm’, the ones with the bulk of the money, power, health and safety, and access to goods and services, and perhaps there’s a sub-conscious fear of our privilege dwindling if ‘the count’ exposes gaps.  

I’m pretty sure that’s it.  

So next time someone tells you that you’re being divisive for pointing out that a person or a people-group is gay, or that they are women, or Kinh Vietnamese, or Baby Boomers, or Muslim, ask them, “Is it being divisive to say who kicked the goals in a footy match, or is it useful metrics for analysis and planning?”

Watch ‘em struggle to answer.  

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