Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Jun 2005

NFL Arrests Are High-Profile, but Close to the Norm

Well this is a relief. The next time you see an NFL player smuggling dried urine through an airport, or randomly firing a gun outside a bar, don't worry -- it's normal. At least when compared to the country as a whole. Interestingly, Tony Dungy is an amateur criminologist who has been tracking arrests for years. Unfortunately, his model didn't predict Michael Doss getting arrested on gun charges.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 15 Jun 2005

19 comments, Last at 16 Jun 2005, 9:44pm by primantis

Comments

1
by Jim A (not verified) :: Wed, 06/15/2005 - 11:45pm

The link below is to an article in Chance by Alfred Blumstein and Jeff Benedict concluding that NFL players actually have lower crime rates than the general population. Benedict is also the co-author of Pros and Cons: The Criminals who Play in the NFL as well as other books on athletes and crime. The book focuses on a few players who had a history of repeated criminal activity, but its initial assessment was that NFL crime rates were high. It should also be noted that Benedict worked with Richard Lapchick (quoted in the SI article) while both were at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, although the two researchers have since publicly debated on many aspects these issues. I believe the NFL also funds some of Lapchick's research.

2
by Dervin (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 7:15am

It would be interesting to compare how the Pro's compare to their HS & College incoming and graduating classes.

3
by MDS (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 11:12am

"An unofficial count by The Associated Press puts it at 16, including Todd Marinovich"

Why would they include Marinovich? I don't see how a guy who hasn't played in a decade is relevant.

"I believe the NFL also funds some of Lapchick’s research."

If that's true, it's hard to take his findings seriously. Also, Ryan noates that the story says that NFL arrests are normal "At least when compared to the country as a whole" but my understanding is that they're not comparing to the country as a whole; they're comparing to males in their 20s and 30s and controlling for the fact that the NFL is disproportionately black and that blacks are arrested at a disproportionately high rate. If they want to adjust for those things, shouldn't they also adjust for income? I assume the reason they don't is that they'd find that NFL players are arrested at much higher rates than people with similar incomes outside the NFL.

4
by Ray (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 11:20am

I'm not sure income is an appropriate adjustment in this case. Most players suddenly become much wealthier when they sign their first NFL contract. Why would this sudden wealth be expected to have a dramatic affect on their behavior? It's like winning the lottery in terms of experience with the wealth.

In general, you'd probably expect different behavior for someone born into money or someone who worked to establish a business and became wealthy. The behavior required to earn the money is vastly different in each of the cases.

Obviously I'm not saying that it's NOT a factor worth considering, but I personally would not expect lumping Randy Moss a catagory with the CEO of a fortune 500 company to produce meaningful results.

But that's just me. ;^)

5
by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 11:27am

I was about to say the same thing about the silliness of including Marinovich.

I think basing the comparison on income level would be highly misleading. Income usually correlates with the income level of one's parents/family. In the NFL and other major sports that's not the case -- very few athletes come from families with similar levels of wealth. If high income people generally commit fewer crimes, is that because of their incomes or because of the environment in which they were raised? I'd suggest the latter has more to do with it.

6
by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 11:28am

Doh! I type too gosh darn slow. Good point, Ray.

7
by Johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 12:33pm

"I assume the reason they don’t is that they’d find that NFL players are arrested at much higher rates than people with similar incomes outside the NFL. "

It seems to me that income group that would include mostly african American rapers (and other musicians) and actors. 20-30 year olds that gain instant millions. Well that group and drug dealer. I imagine most doctors, lawyer, investment bankers and such dont regular hit that income level until their 30s (if ever). So of the african americans that make instant millions in their early 20s does NFL player make blotter news more often than rapper... I'd be shocked if they did. Heck if you threw in white actors and singers in their early 20s with instant wealth I'd doubt you see the NFL as worse.

8
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:14pm

Or rappers... Unless this is a Michael Jackson (not the WR) thread...

9
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:22pm

Johonny,

I assume you meant "African Amercian RAPPERS", not "african American RAPERS". Obviously, the crime rate in the second category would be higher...

10
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:24pm

What would be interesting would be to compare the crime rate by NFL players to the crime rate by players in other sports. It seems to me that recently, the public perception is that NBA players are more criminally inclined than NFL players...

11
by Pat on the Back (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:32pm

Side note:
I used to work at a Yacht Club that had an annual fishing tournament, and some of the winning fishes were "strippers" and others were "stripers". Always loved that. Unfortunately, I don't know the arrest rates of the winners.

12
by J (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:36pm

Shouldn't NFL players be held to a much higher standard than the country as a whole?
Anyone in any high profile/high paying profession should be, and most times are, held to a higher standard. If a law firm is paying a partner $500K/year and that guy gets arrested for DUI and an unregistered gun, you think his firm would take some action. Certainly. His actions represents his firm, just as a NFL players' actions represents the NFL.

13
by David Siebecker (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:40pm

I wonder if the difference between the NBA and the NFL is that the NFL requires three years of college (effectively) for its players and some of the criminals are weeded out in college.

14
by Ray (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 1:50pm

"Shouldn’t NFL players be held to a much higher standard than the country as a whole?"

Perhaps in the eyes of the NFL, and it's their decision as a league to mete out punishment above and beyond the law.

But (I think) in terms of the law and society, they should be held to the same standard as the rest of us. Of course, we all know how well that flies in real life...

15
by Jim A (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 2:07pm

Here's another link to an interesting panel discussion from several years ago among Lapchick, Benedict, and a couple other experts on athletes and crime. Scroll down about halfway for a discussion of the NFL's policies.

The argument is put forth that the statistics of athletes compared to the general population don't really matter. Athletes are viewed as role models and are put in a different position than most criminals. The NFL and other sports policy makers have a unique opportunity to help those affected by crimes and society as a whole, yet the cynical view is that their decisions are motivated public relations.

16
by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 3:30pm

"Anyone in any high profile/high paying profession should be, and most times are, held to a higher standard. If a law firm is paying a partner $500K/year and that guy gets arrested for DUI and an unregistered gun, you think his firm would take some action. Certainly. His actions represents his firm, just as a NFL players’ actions represents the NFL."

Other professions are held ot a higher standard because, when you boil it down, lawyers (like CEO's and I-bankers) get paid to exercise good judgment on behalf of their clients/shareholders. Being a complete dumb ass is directly relevant to the performance of their job duties in a way that isn't true for people that get paid to entertain, be they athletes, actors or musicians. Why would anyone expect a group of people to have better judgment, on average, than the rest of the country just because they can run fast?

17
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 3:50pm

We could compare the NFL players to the top executives at Enron. The income levels would be the same, and the NFL would have a much lower arrest rate.

18
by Johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 7:36pm

"If a law firm is paying a partner $500K/year and that guy gets arrested for DUI and an unregistered gun, you think his firm would take some action. Certainly. "

I imagine they'd get him off. I mean it doesn't look go if your law firm can't beat cases against themselves:) In general I think your wrong. If lawyer gets a DUI who finds out? No one. When you hire lawyer do you ask for his driving record. I imagine most people don't. I find it odd the NFL goes out of it's way to generate negative publicity. I mean if the NFL didn't test Rickey Williams for pot, who would know he smokes the stuff. I mean the NFL went out of it's way to creat a negative story. To me that's kinda dumb. To me the NFL policies keep negative stories in the press cycle longer than they would otherwise stay. That's bad business.

19
by primantis (not verified) :: Thu, 06/16/2005 - 9:44pm

Based on my own obversation of news accounts, it appears to me that on a per player basis, there is significantly more crime (violent and non-violent) occuring in major Division I college football than in the NFL. That is particularly sad when you consider that NFL teams are for-profit enterprises, while colleges/universities (supposedly) have citizenship and other standards for their players.