In the movie Glory Road, basketball coach Don Haskins recruits young players for his team at Texas Western College. For the first time, a team made of black and white players represents a university from the south. The Miners of Texas Western become legend when they win the most respected College basketball tournament at the end. In the final of the NCAA, an all-black Texas Western team defeats an all-white University of Kentucky team. The year is 1966.
I recommend the movie to those of you who like basketball but also to those who are interested in social change. Indeed, beyond the sheer exploit of winning the NCAA (especially against the Kentucky Wildcats who were one of the dominant teams in the late ‘60s), the movie also shows how sport can induce changes in social norms and attitudes. Don Haskins had no claim to fame when he took the job and his main experience was coaching women’s basketball. He was told there was not much money for him to run the team and hardly any scholarships were available to help him recruit players.
So what did he do? He acted entrepreneurially. He discovered talent where others believed there wasn’t any. He noticed under-valued (human) resources (the black players) and offered them to come and play for Texas Western. He went against established social norms because he knew the team could win. Haskins and his players were mocked and ridiculed, but it didn’t stop him from showing that talent and hard work matter more than skin color. The story of the Miners of Texas Western is a story about entrepreneurship. Haskins was an entrepreneur not only because he recruited the right team but also because his success opened the door to new social norms that people would regard as acceptable.
An important aspect of the movie is Haskins’s training rules. For instance, the players are not allowed to go out with girls, they have to sleep early and think about only two things: basketball and grades. Haskins also gradually gives the black players greater latitude to play their own game. While the players try to break the rules and go out with girls, they slowly come to realize how important the discipline is if they want to reach the NCAA final. The story of the Miners of Texas Western is one of entrepreneurship and creativity within rules.
Watching the movie, I thought of the way Pete Boettke teaches economics. I realized that Pete in fact coaches economics. He acts as a coach for his team of students (and I guess Chris Coyne and Pete Leeson would agree on this), he imposes rules that they need to respect if they are to reach the final, and he gives them the latitude to be creative within these rules. Also, the students must breathe and live economics, the way Haskins's players lived and breathed basketball. Pete Boettke is perhaps the only economics coach in the land, and I believe we will one day win the championship under his leadership…
Chris Coyne, Justin Isaacs, Jeremy Schwartz, and Tony Carilli have a paper coming out in the Review of Austrian Economics that looks at a similar issue using the integration of black baseball players in Major League Baseball (MLB). The paper explores the connection between discrimination and entrepreneurship. They show how MLB team owners had to weigh the benefits of integrating versus the costs of alienating consumers who had a taste for discrimination against hiring blacks. They find that the owners whose teams could profit by contending for the league pennant with the addition of black players were the ones who were willing to take the risk of integrating even though integration often stood in contrast to revealed consumer preferences. The paper provides a mechanism for the integration of black players and shows how consumer preferences for discrimination could shift via entrepreneurial activities.