Following the recent highly publicized arrest of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants football fans to know that he takes a hard line with the league’s criminal offenders. He also doggedly continues to point to data suggesting that in reality, NFL players as an independent subgroup actually commit fewer crimes on average than the rest of society. Is it true? Has Roger Goodell really cleaned up the NFL?
The short answer is yes, although with perhaps a little sprinkling of no on top. Let’s just say that there are some extenuating circumstances that need to be examined and discussed in order to gain a clearer picture of crime, with the NFL and Roger Goodell’s place somewhere in the middle.
Based on crime data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the average annual arrest rate for men ages 22 to 34 in the general population is 9.9 percent. For the NFL, with its players for the most part falling within that age bracket, that same average is approximately 3.5 percent. Judging by these figures, it can easily be seen how someone can assert that the NFL doesn’t have a crime problem, at least in comparison to the rest of society.
But is that really the case? Think for a second about what you would do if you switched places with a multi-millionaire NFL athlete. I’m willing to bet an overwhelming number of you already started thinking about how drastically different your life would be. Maybe buy a new house, an expensive sports car, or any of the other lavish things we see athletes and celebrities do once they strike it rich. You would be pretty content with your life, right? I would be, too.
For whatever reason, however, a portion of these athletes disregard their own good fortune and deliberately continue down a destructive path that leads to criminal activity. A good question to consider is how different would the NFL’s arrest totals be if in fact the NFL was actually representative of society’s demographics as a whole. Would there be a less propensity to commit a crime from its new crop of players? I don’t have a clear answer, just speculation, but it is definitely something to ponder.
Commissioner Goodell would lead you to believe that he has ushered in a successful new era of policing the NFL’s seemingly ever-growing crime problem and has been achieving great results. Unfortunately for Rog, that just simply isn’t the case.
Yes, he has served as commissioner during a period in which in-season crime has dropped compared to that of his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, who was in office from 1989-2006. However, the statistics show that the average number of arrests in-season has only dropped 40 percent from Tagliabue to Goodell. So technically yes, Roger Goodell has presided over a league-wide drop in in-season crime, but is that small of a percentage differential really worth talking about?
The answer is no, that’s why broad statements like “Crime has dropped in the NFL since Roger Goodell became commissioner” are made. And what about off-season crime? Do football fans ever hear specific statistics regarding that? No, because under Goodell offseason arrests are up 61 percent from Tagliabue. Another telling statistic the commissioner would like you to be unaware of — this current offseason’s arrest total is 75 percent higher than last year.
That percentage is perhaps the most important and telling figure of all. Across the four major sports, crimes largely occur during the offseason, when players have less responsibility and more time to get into trouble. If Roger Goodell really wants to “clean up the NFL,” he needs to address the issue of the players’ conduct when they aren’t in the middle of the season. This is when it matters. With the recent Hernandez arrest and upcoming trial, which potentially has the legs to become this generation’s O.J. Simpson saga, hopefully the need for more league control during the offseason will be emphasized.
The root of the NFL’s crime problem appears to be alcohol, with 28 percent of the league’s total arrests being DUI charges, which is good for most of any singular crime. Over one-fourth of the crimes of the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings were alcohol related, who both lead the league in total arrests since 2000 (40 each).
Roger Goodell has to identify the real issues with the players, and zero in on the problem until it becomes diminished. Sure, the league warns its first year players about how destructive a path of crime can be at the annual Rookie Symposium, but do they continue this practice any time after? Playing professional football is a privilege, and Commissioner Goodell owes it to the fans to put the best product on the field with players who have too much respect for themselves and the NFL to throw it all away by carelessly committing criminal acts.
For a graphic showing NFL arrests since 2000, check out http://arrests.thesportsgeeks.com/.