Appendix A: Coding Social Origins

Data and Methods

Similar to elites in other sectors of society (e.g. CEO’s and politicians), professional athletes in major American sports (basketball, football, baseball and hockey) are not acquiescent to traditional survey research methods (e.g. face to face interviews and mail-out questionnaires). As no survey data exist that contain mobility variables for professional athletes, using primary data from secondary sources to address our research question is necessary. 

On this score, elite studies are telling: despite the resources and best efforts in elite populations research, survey response rates are typically between 30 and 40 percent (for statistics on response rates where top managers are the target population, see Baruch 1999: 431; for a discussion on problems with securing interviews with politicians, see Maisel and Stone 1998).

Note that we explicitly sample based on characteristics of the dependent variable, that is, membership in the NBA.  Thus, our research question should read: Among those who have attempted to become NBA players, did the intersection of race, class, and family structure background influence their odds of attainment? To evaluate the possible effect of this form of bias on our substantive conclusions, we compare our NBA players to the U.S. population using Census and the General Social Survey data.  Results of this analysis are in the Findings section.

Newspaper articles containing basketball player biographies are formulaic; a typical biographical story starts with a brief description of some happening that occurred in the player’s life: a tragic death of a loved one, a remembrance of the long hours spent practicing, a particular lesson learned while training that unlocked a hidden potential, a cute story from childhood, and so on.  This description is usually supplemented with quotes from parents, friends, mentors, or the athlete himself.  Next is a description of the athlete’s playing statistics and current on-the-court performance, either for the year or the career to date.  After this introduction, the middle part delves into how the happening described at the beginning of the article provides insights into the player’s personality or on-the-court performance.  The end of the article discusses possible futures for the athlete:  how the player’s experiences will shape his continued performance or the player’s assessment of his own future and the future of his team.

Coding Examples

Social Class



  • “years filled with difficult memories such as poverty…”
  • “There was a lot of crime in my neighborhood…”
  • “…a single-parent home in the urban projects.”
  • “[Player] saw his mother struggle…Such financial struggles are now over.”
  • “He grew up…in a housing project.”
  • “[Player] would run the 14 flights of stairs in his project…I lived in poverty all my life, too.”




  • “she had worked her way up the corporate ladder…because of her success [there, she] could transfer to just about anywhere in the country.”
  • “My dad was in the [military].  He was a staff sergeant.”
  • “His family was neither rich nor poor.”
  • “becoming a … business man with his own cab company…”
  • “his father, a computer analyst…”
  • “Father is an assistant principal…while his mother is a teacher.”
  • “…from a two-parent home in a two-car-garage corner of suburbia”




  • “as the son of [an NBA] coach…”
  • “[Mother and father], who own an insurance agency…considered [$12,500 per year tuition per year] a fair price for a school who’s graduates attend some of the country’s top colleges.  The family’s five-bedroom home in [exclusive neighborhood]…”
  • “His father was a defensive end for the Browns…now an assistant coach with [professional football team].”
  • “A journeyman in the NBA and European leagues…the [family] is financially secure; they don’t need the NBA’s money.”

Family Structure Background

Two Parent Family 

  • “his mother, speaking from their home in [town name]…[father] built it 20 years ago at their home in [town name].”
  • (father speaking) “My wife and I felt that during the summer it was better for him to…”
  • “[Player] and his parents, [mother and father], spoke on parental involvement…”
  • “I don’t know how I’d react if my mother was in a single-parent situation, if my father wasn’t around and I saw my mother struggle everyday…”
  • “His parents wanted [player] to remain close to home.”
  • “…from a two-parent home in a two-car-garage corner of suburbia”


Single Mother


  • “as a single parent with two sons, she…”
  • “She was a single parent.”
  • “He never knew his real father, who left when [he] was 3…”
  • “He grew up with his mom…after his dad left them.”
  • “…[player] was raised by his mother…”
  • “[His] father, who is not married to [mother] and has a separate life and family…”


Single Father


  • [Player] was raised…by his father…has met his mother once.”
  • “Growing up…his father, [father], supported five children…his mother died of breast cancer.”


Grandparent / Other


  • “the grandmother who raised him from early childhood”
  • “With his father dead and his mother in and out of prison…moved in with his select team coach.”
  • “The two [player and brother] lived together at  ____ for neglected and abused children, until [he] reached high-school age and moved to…another group home.”
  • [Player]’s parents had been drug users with marital problems, and when he was 4 he moved in with his grandparents…The death of his parents … forced [player] to grow up quickly.”
  • “…various problems forced him to [live] with his grandparents…and his uncle.”

One response to “Appendix A: Coding Social Origins

  1. Pingback: Hoop Inequalities Companion Website « Hoop Inequalities

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