When LSU football loses, especially when it loses games it shouldn’t, judges across the state dish out harsher sentences to juvenile offenders, most notably black boys and girls.
In a January study by LSU researchers Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan, the pair revealed data on their university’s football team, specifically the differences between when LSU football wins or loses, over a span from 1996 to 2012.
They found that judges who received their undergraduate or law degrees from LSU go through emotional, psychological shocks following “unexpected outcomes of football games” played by their alma mater. Moreover, they found unexpected losses increase sentencing length, the majority of which is borne on black juveniles.
So when Wisconsin upset LSU on Saturday, this could easily take place the week following, their research would suggest.
Mocan — the LSU Chair in Economics, who researches the economics of crime, health and labor — said that upon presenting his findings to folk in Baton Rouge, none were surprised. Likely, because football dominates the South and everything else is fighting to be a distant second, even a profession which is supposed to be fair and just by law.
“For people that are not familiar with college football and the intensity of it, it may come as a surprise. It all comes down to the deep connection of the state and the institution and the football team,” Mocan told SB Nation. “Here, they are indoctrinated in this culture of football.”
This research is based on juvenile offenders, first-timers from ages 10 to 17, so results aren’t complicated by any criminal histories. In Louisiana, when you commit a juvenile offense, the docket is selected and randomly appoints you with a judge.
Their research brought back 9,346 unique case records from a total of 207 judges. The average sentencing time for jail, probation, or the combination of both was 514 days for first-time offenses. The incarceration rate of these offenses is 29 percent, higher than the national average. Simple battery or disturbing the peace offenses could land a teenager behind bars for a year if they are sentenced after LSU gets upset.
Of these judges, the study finds about 47 percent graduated from LSU law school, while about one-third received their bachelor’s degree from LSU.
Among the convicted, 64 percent are black and 34 percent are white; 88 percent of the judges were white, and only 23 percent were women. The average judge age is 56, and around 73 percent of the judges are affiliated with the Democratic Party.
Upset wins and close losses by the Tigers have little to no effect on these judiciaries, the study showed, only losses. The examination suggests the effects of sentencing after these games are in no way a direct reaction to prosecutors, defense attorneys, or defendants.
Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan This table shows the study’s findings that an unsurprising LSU loss (right side) slightly increases sentencing length, while an LSU upset loss (left side) can increase it by 33 days or more.
Yet, there is a disparity of treatment between black and white defendants. Black defendants do not receive equal protections under the quota of the law, according to the study. The impact is larger for a sentencing following an upset loss, specifically if LSU was ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25, like it was Saturday.
Though the harsher punishments handed down are not deliberate, the study says, they are triggered by football. By and large, it’s white men who are emotionally distraught that their football team lost, with fervor lasting days and being harnessed on mostly black children.
“We find some evidence that black defendants bear much of the burden of judges’ wrath due to this emotional shock, which hints at a negative predisposition towards black defendants,” the study reads. “This result, coupled with the fact that there are no race-related differences in the disposition length in the absence of judges’ emotional stress, is suggestive of the existence of a subtle, and previously-unnoticed, bias in sentencing.”
Mocan said there was no way to base a metric for any underlying racism in any individual judge, but that what is being imposed on black adolescents must be recognized and rectified.
Calvin Johnson, a retired Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in New Orleans, called such data “crazy.” Johnson determined that this conversation about race, football, and the Louisiana court systems wouldn’t happen if there weren’t a cause for it.
“We know race matters. We know race matters across all kinds of arenas. But it seems so striking that these judges tend to be harsher after a football loss,” Johnson said. “That’s such an indictment on my profession. It’s an indictment not only on the judiciary but also on the legal profession. It speaks to how narrowly sculpted some people are who wear the black dress.”
The impact of mood changes triggered by unexpected losses of sports teams has been documented for years.
Alex Edmans and others, in an August 2007 Journal of Finance research paper, showed a short-lived, yet significant stock market decline in countries after losses by their international soccer losses.
David Card and Gordon Dahl deduced in 2011 that unexpected NFL losses of home teams increase domestic violence rates by men in the host cities. AJ Healy found in 2010 an electoral impact following local college football games before election day, with incumbents receiving higher vote percentages in Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections.
The ramifications of sports go to great lengths, especially during the college football season. Within the Louisiana judicial system, which is known to have unmistakable flaws in its criminal parishes, everything can change for the worse once LSU loses what should be an elementary, enjoyable concept: a Saturday afternoon of football.
“We all have narrowness. We aren’t immune to that,” Johnson said. “But when you put on the black dress, you should be able to set aside all of it, especially LSU just losing a football game. It should be on balance and objectivity, so that the person in front of us benefits what we do and society does too.”