Sports and Crime Rates

American football on fieldIn a recent span of a few months, 28 NFL players were arrested. Their alleged crimes included murder, assault and battery, child abuse, gun possession, drug possession and driving under the influence. Other players are serving jail sentences for serious crimes.

The Truth About the Stats

But overall, the arena of professional sports is less violent than the ordinary world. The crimes of a few have tarnished public perception of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, that they foster cultures of bad behavior and violence. Professional sports crimes make headlines. A relatively few bad apples can make a whole team or league look bad.
NFL players, for example, are more law-abiding than their counterparts outside the league. Statistically, the NFL crime rate is lower than the national average and since 2006, NFL crime statistics have shown a steady decline.

Here is a breakdown of professional sports arrests in the last three years for violent or drug-related crimes:

• The NHL has the best-behaved players by a wide margin.
• Baseball players have the second-lowest arrest rate and few incidents of violent crime. MLB arrests are usually for DUI.
• The smallest league of the four major American sports is the NBA. But basketball players have the highest arrest record of the four, with domestic abuse topping the list of offenses.
• According to the FBI, the NFL arrest rate is 1 in 45. The national average for non-players is 1 in 23.
• Hockey and baseball players have very few arrests for domestic violence; the NHL and MLB sometimes go for years without a single arrest for domestic issues.
• The NFL and NBA have the widest variety of charges—domestic abuse; assault and battery; DUI; reckless driving or behavior; and drug-related crimes.

Even if athletes are statistically less violent than the general public, troubled league officials and players’ unions are analyzing the crime problem. Experts have theorized that some players’ violent tendencies were bred into them by the sport; for years, they’re trained to be tough and rewarded for aggression. Many come into the leagues having never been taught that character outranks winning. A recent spike in professional athlete arrests for domestic violence prompted the NFL to launch an ad campaign condemning it.

Drugs and Alcohol

Most violent behaviors accompany drug or alcohol abuse. All four leagues have strict substance abuse policies that include testing for steroids or performance-enhancing drugs. Just recently, baseball and football toughened their rules and the consequences for violating them. Players will be tested more often, fines will be steeper and suspension or banishment from the league could come more quickly.

Leagues are also trying to address the period of time between a player’s arrest and his day in court. Almost always, the media get word and are preset through the athlete’s booking, bond hearing, posting or denying of bail and release from jail to await trial. League officials want more clearly defined protocols and greater sensitivity to players’ rights to due process, in both the criminal justice system and the league.

Working together, leagues, players’ unions and athletes are creating cleaner games and better reputations.

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