Incomplete perception on NFL lawbreakers

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Apparent NFL crime problem not supported by stats

By Mac Moore

DUI, check. Illegal possession of a firearm, check. Domestic violence, check. Homicide, check. Former Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez was indicted for first-degree murder on Aug. 23, a month after the initial arrest for the crime. The evidence presented by the prosecution have outlined a case that accuses Hernandez of shooting his friend Odin Lloyd in an industrial park just blocks from Hernandez’s home.

Hernandez is just one of 30 active NFL players that were arrested this offseason, according to Tony Manfred of Business Insider. One of his sources for the article, an arrest database from UTSanDiego.com, lists the arrests since 2000 at 667.

All the ESPN opinion shows seem to agree. The comments section for articles on these players would indicate that it must be the case. Now they have a cold-blooded murderer in their mix. Pro football players are out of control. The NFL has a crime problem.

It could, but only if we accept that the US has a crime problem. FBI statistics indicate that the national arrest rate is around one in 23 people, or four percent as of 2009. Accounting for only 53 players per roster (the number is higher due to injuries, etc.), than the arrest rate for the NFL was 2.3 percent last year. That is around 8 percent less than that of the average male between the ages of 22 and 34 for the same time frame.

The numbers indicate, even with odd spike from this offseason, the arrest reports filling the news ticker at the bottom of our television screens are no real indication of a NFL crime problem. We have to remember perception isn’t reality.

Some say the NFL players have to be held to higher standards. I would say one-fifth the national average for the same age group is holding to a higher standard. We can’t just assume that high profile athletes will somehow not make bad decisions out in the world and that these decisions won’t at some point lead them to the back of a squad car.

A lot of the misperception is derived from both the violence of the sport and the demographics of the players. Those are very complicated issues and the latter is a very dividing issue. The inaccurate belief that NFL players are somehow jailbirds is also because of the 24-hour news cycle.

Every arrest for a professional athlete seems like a bigger deal because their arrest makes the news. If 40 times a year we see a “NFL player arrested” headline on the screen or in the newspaper, it’s constantly on our mind.

I doubt if a coworker got arrested anybody would wonder if their business had an arrest problem. Heck, I doubt most people would even know if they work with somebody who has been arrested. Here’s a hint, in a workplace with at least 23 people, statistics say at least one co-worker has been arrested this year alone.

We should actually look at the job the NFL has done to keep their players from racking up higher arrest numbers. The league has consistently suspended players for legal troubles. The NFL has also largely ignored the outcome in the courts, especially under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

After an alleged assault of a woman during the 2008 offseason, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games. That case was only a civil suit, the courts did not have enough evidence to even charge Roethlisberger criminally. That’s four games that he didn’t get to play and didn’t get paid, just for putting himself in a position where he was accused in the incident.

The impact of stories like Roethlisberger’s and Hernandez’s, although they are vastly different cases, gather so much media attention for one reason; they are out of the ordinary and not the NFL norm, despite the perception.

The Hernandez case is a horrific story. The evidence, at least from what we can view from reports, seems overwhelming. Whether he is guilty or not though, this murder trial does not mean the NFL has a crime problem. Hernandez is the one who is accountable for his actions and these events reflect his personal decision-making, not the rest of the league.

Contact Mac Moore, sports editor, at mmoore82@jccc.edu. 

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