The IQs of NFL players are back in the news due to the controversy over race-norming cognitive testing used in the NFL’s payout to retired players for dementia caused by concussions. Here’s a 2012 study in the Journal of Sports Economics that tabulated the Wonderlic IQ test scores for 350 black and 146 white NFL draft picks in 2004-2008:
The Wonderlic is a 12 minute pencil and paper IQ test that consists of 50 questions, with the equivalent of two points per right answer. Originally, 20 right answers was said to be a 100, but last I checked in the early 2000s, the average score had Flynn Effect-ed up to 21. So zero right answers would be a 58 IQ and 50 right answers would be a 158 IQ.
So black NFL draft picks average 97.5 while white draft picks average 113.5, for a racial gap of 15.9 points, a little over one standard deviation (which is usually set to 15 points). (Black picks average somewhat more than one standard deviation faster on the 40 yard dash.)
Both scores are well above national averages for their races. Why? My guess is that players’ agents help them prep for the test.
But also, some positions, such quarterback, center, and middle linebacker include managing other players on the field with shouted instructions before the play begins. These shouting positions are near the center of the football field (so that all players on the team can hear), so footspeed isn’t as important. Not surprisingly, whites are more common at these spots.
And with most things in life, all else being equal, higher IQ is better than lower IQ, although it doesn’t matter that much in the non-managerial positions in the NFL draft. Finally, smart guys are less likely to do things so dumb that even star football players have their pro prospects ruined in high school or college, like shoot somebody who dissed them at a block party.
This table is from:
Wonderlic, Race, and the NFL Draft
Andrew Gill1 and Victor Brajer
Extending the work of Berri and Simmons on the National Football League (NFL) player draft and the Scouting Combine, the authors use the Wonderlic cognitive ability test to test one implication of a simple Phelps model of statistical discrimination in the NFL draft. The authors treat Wonderlic scores as a noisy signal of a player’s adaptability to the NFL game that may be more informative for White players than it is for Black players. The authors find that Wonderlic scores are important in explaining relative draft position for quarterbacks, offensive linemen, and tight ends. At the same time, the authors find limited evidence to support statistical discrimination based on Wonderlic scores. …
The first key result of this exercise is that Wonderlic scores are important in explaining draft selection only for the offensive positions of quarterback, offensive lineman, and tight end. It should probably come as no surprise that Wonderlic scores are small and insignificant for defensive players, as they more typically have to react to situations that develop, a skill not likely to be as highly correlated with results from a test of cognitive ability. It is less clear why Wonderlic scores are small and insignificant for wide receivers and running backs. …
Running backs basically react to where a holes has opened up.
The second key result from column 1 of Table 3 is that Wonderlic scores are
quantitatively more important for quarterbacks than for any other position. A
10-point increase in Wonderlic scores moves a quarterback up in the draft by
31 positions (10 3.061). In contrast, a comparable Wonderlic increase only
moves a tight end up by 25 positions, and an offensive lineman, only about
12 spots, in the draft. This again, should come as no surprise, as it is very likely
that the quarterback position requires a higher level of cognitive ability than any
other position on the field. …
Turning first to the results for quarterbacks, we draw three main conclusions. First, Wonderlic scores are important in determining relative draft position for White quarterbacks but not for Black quarterbacks, though we note that the p value for the test of significance of the Wonderlic coefficient for Black quarterbacks is .103. Second, the quantitative impacts of a 1-point increase in Wonderlic scores of 2.211 for white quarterbacks and 2.449 for Black quarterbacks are well within the range of estimates (1.94–2.72) reported by Berri and Simmons. Third, we find no evidence to support a statistical discrimination story. The p value for the coefficient on Wonderlic scores for Black quarterbacks is hardly overwhelming evidence that teams are ignoring scores for Black quarterbacks. In addition, the p value for the test of equality of the Wonderlic coefficients by race is .901, and the point estimate for the marginal effect of Wonderlic scores on draft position is larger for Black quarterbacks than for White quarterbacks.
Actually, IQ appears to benefit both black and white quarterback prospects, although there haven’t been enough black QBs for this to be statistically significant for blacks. The most consistently outstanding black QBs of recent years have been Russell Wilson (114) and Patrick Mahomes (106). Lamar Jackson (13 on the Wonderlic) was an MVP but we’ll see if he can be consistently excellent. But I may be misinterpreting this.
From the Associated Press:
Retired Black players say NFL brain-injury payouts show bias
By MARYCLAIRE DALE and MICHELLE R. SMITH
16 minutes ago
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Thousands of retired Black professional football players, their families and supporters are demanding an end to the controversial use of “race-norming” to determine which players are eligible for payouts in the NFL’s $1 billion settlement of brain injury claims, a system experts say is discriminatory.
… Under the settlement, however, the NFL has insisted on using a scoring algorithm on the dementia testing that assumes Black men start with lower cognitive skills. They must therefore score much lower than whites to show enough mental decline to win an award. The practice, which went unnoticed until 2018, has made it harder for Black former players to get awards.
IQ tests are often race-normed in the name of racial equity to prevent an excessive number of blacks from being labeled mentally retarded. Now, it is demanded that IQ tests not be race-normed in the name of racial equity to label more blacks as demented.
Personally, I don’t see why race-norming is at all necessary in the NFL’s concussion dementia payout system because Wonderlic and SAT/ACT test scores are available for all but the oldest players. For example, Colin Kaepernick scored a 38, which is equivalent to a 134 IQ. If, say, it turned out that his IQ had declined to 100 due to concussions, I think it would be fair to compensate him based on his own documented past intelligence rather than a racial average.
By the way, it’s pretty interesting that one reason that Kaepernick is such a famous figure is because of his high IQ. But then has mostly been of use to him in his off-field activities. As a quarterback he tended to come across as a great athlete but not a terribly good thinker during the play.