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Saturday, April 28, 2007
Brady Quinn, the NFL Draft on ESPN, and Confirmation Bias
For those of you who are also watching the NFL Draft, I wonder if we can get any more attention devoted to Brady Quinn, who has received more air time (and at least three personal interviews, including one with a moribund Suzy Kolber who tried desperately to get him to shed a tear or at least a swear) than all other players there, combined? Quinn, who was projected by most mock drafts to not fall past Miami at #9 (and many drafts had projected him to go #3 to Cleveland) has not yet been drafted, and we are on pick #16 as I write this. What I find interesting is how confirmation bias appears relevant in ESPN's coverage of Quinn.
What is confirmation bias? It's a cognitive bias that we all suffer from, and it causes us to interpret information, and to amplify certain information, that validates our beliefs at a particular time. So our minds cherry-pick facts and observations that help to validate an opinion, but discount or altogether ignore information that contradicts that opinion. I write about confirmation bias, and other cognitive biases, in my law review article It's Not About the Money: The Role of Preferences, Cognitive Biases, and Heuristics Among Professional Athletes, 71 Brooklyn Law Review 1459 (2006). In the article, I examine how Jermaine O'Neal seemed to suffer from confirmation bias when he thought that Larry Bird would keep Isiah Thomas as head coach, a belief that many found dubious and yet one that O'Neal regarded as crucial in re-signing with the Pacers in 2003.
But back to Brady Quinn. When the draft began, the ESPN guys were flowering him with superlative after superlative. Steve Young was particularly effusive, gushing that Quinn had remarkable intangibles and would be a fantastic pick. Chris Berman couldn't get enough of the guy. It was as if Brady Quinn was a can't-miss prospect.
But he didn't go number 1. And then Cleveland passed on him at #3 (at which moment the ESPN cameras focused not on the Browns pick, Joe Thomas, or on the Browns fans, but rather on a dejected Quinn and his mom and girlfriend, followed by a photo of Quinn when he was 5-years-old wearing a Browns uniform. Oh the sadness!). Worse yet, when Miami surprisingly drafted Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn at #9, suddenly there was a need to explain what's wrong with Brady Quinn. Why had no one picked him? There must be some reason.
Well in came the ESPN trio of Michael Smith, Sean Salisbury, and Mark May who proceeded to deride Quinn as "overrated"; "doesn't play big in big games"; "not accurate"; "even his name 'Brady' is a problem," Michael Smith curiously put it. No longer was Brady Quinn a can't-miss prospect, he had become the beneficiary of playing at Notre Dame, a product of Charlie Weis' play book, and certainly not worthy of a high draft pick. Even worse, his first name was Brady. What were his parents thinking?
It's interesting to observe the rapid shift in "expert" observations of Brady Quinn to fit an unexpected development in the draft. When things looked good for Brady Quinn, Brady Quinn looked good; when the going got tough, so did how others characterized him.
Still, it's undeniably fun to watch the NFL Draft.
Update: As I pat myself on the back for my prediction in the comments section coming true (a first, no doubt), the Browns traded with Dallas to take Quinn at #22, and now ESPN loves Brady Quinn again--"he's not afraid to throw the tough throw,"Braveheart as QB if you will--while doubting the Dolphins for passing on him at #9 (where were those doubts earlier?). And as I type this, Suzy Kolber is interviewing him again, except asking softball questions this time around.