Ray Carter | October 17, 2022

OSSAA requires photographers to get bias training?

Ray Carter

In response to an incident in 2021, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) now requires all media, including photographers, to undergo implicit-bias training before they can receive credentials to high-school playoff sporting events controlled by the OSSAA.

That requirement makes little sense, says one longtime photographer who has long taken pictures of school sporting events for a local school.

“What in the name of conscience has implicit bias got to do with me as a photographer?” said Bob Whitaker. “I follow the ball. I follow the action in any sport. It has nothing to do with any kind of bias.”

The bias training is being imposed even though it is based in part upon the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a program that purports to identify individuals’ hidden prejudices. The IAT has been widely criticized by experts as lacking scientific rigor or validity.

David Jackson, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, defends the requirement for media to undergo implicit-bias training.

“The OSSAA has learned the hard way that any problems that arise from broadcasts (audio or visual) for our events will be directly laid in our lap,” Jackson said. “The requirement is in place to help ensure that we have done all we can to prevent negative occurrences, especially as they relate to racial or gender bias.”

However, the incident that apparently prompted the policy did not involve implicit bias. Instead, the bias was explicit.

In March 2021, during a state quarterfinal basketball game between girls’ basketball teams from Norman and Midwest City, the Norman team chose to protest during the national anthem, duplicating the controversial actions of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. A microphone caught an individual, contracted to broadcast the game, responding to the anthem protest by using a notorious racial epithet and adding, “I hope they lose.”

One professor compared belief in Implicit Association Test results to belief in witchcraft and sorcery.

Today the OSSA’s website states that each individual wishing to receive an OSSAA media pass to cover a high-school playoff event “will need to complete the free Implicit Bias course” on the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) website.

“Each individual requesting a pass must acknowledge that they have completed the free Implicit Bias course and that they have read and agree to all contents of the Media Requirements, Conditions and Guidelines at OSSAA playoff events,” the OSSAA website states.

The NFHS website, which is linked on the OSSAA website, declares that implicit biases “are the automatic reactions we have toward other people based on our past learning and expectations,” and states that studies have shown implicit bias “affects the experiences of students in school athletic and activity programs.”

“The NFHS has partnered with Project Implicit to bring you this course, Implicit Bias,” the website states. “Studies support that there is a relationship between implicit bias and real-world behavior, which highlights the importance of being aware of and managing your bias. This course defines and illustrates examples of Implicit Bias and provides research on how it impacts our society.”

An accompanying video claims research on Implicit Association Test results “has demonstrated that people’s IAT scores predict how they behave,” and claims that physicians “who have stronger implicit biases favoring White people are less likely to recommend appropriate treatment for a Black patient with coronary artery disease.”

However, the validity of IAT scores has long been disputed by experts.

A 2013 meta-analysis by officials at Rice University, University of Virginia, and Texas A&M University found that IATs were “poor predictors” of bias.

In March 2022, Lee Jussim, a social psychologist, noted that peer-reviewed scientific literature “has witnessed a great walking back of many of the most dramatic claims made on the basis of the IAT and about implicit social cognition more generally.”

One 2021 research paper on the IAT, “More Error than Attitude in Implicit Association Tests,” stated that the researchers’ results “demonstrate unequivocally that IAT scores are predominantly composed of measurement error not implicit attitudes.”

Jussim also noted that the IAT “measures reaction times, not things that most people think of as bias” and that the test “does not directly measure racism, oppression, or unfairness.”

On the IAT, test-takers are asked to classify a series of items into four categories. Subjects are asked to respond rapidly with a right-hand key press to items representing some concepts and with a left-hand key press for the remaining categories. Response time—even if differing by only seconds—can affect the subject’s implicit-bias results.

In 2021, a team that included Jussim along with other researchers from Rutgers University, Georgia State University, and New York University, noted, “Exactly what the IAT measures remains unclear, even after 20 years of research.”

The researchers concluded that “even if the IAT fully captures implicit biases, and those implicit biases were completely eliminated, the extent to which racial gaps would be reduced is minimal.”

In 2018, Jason Manning, an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University, compared belief in IAT results to belief in witchcraft and sorcery.

Whitaker said he has shot photos at local high school sporting events for several years, providing the images free of charge to the high school and/or local paper. However, when one school made the playoffs this year, he feared OSSAA restrictions might prevent him from taking photos at the event, so he sought a press pass from OSSAA as a stringer for a local paper. That’s when he learned that no pass would be provided unless he first went through implicit-bias training.

Whitaker’s response is in line with the findings of many researchers who have reviewed the IAT: “This is absurd.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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