Unnecessary Roughness: Media Meme Misses That NFL Domestic Violence Arrests Far Fewer Than Society's

Unnecessary Roughness: Media Meme Misses That NFL Domestic Violence Arrests Far Fewer Than Society's

It turns out that the guys in the stands hit their wives a lot more than the guys on the field.

But because TV cameras obsess over the activities of football players and not football watchers, the guys in the seats believe the guys in the cleats use their wives as tackling dummies in their off hours.

Sportige.com, which ironically bills itself as “the sports know-it-all,” synthesizes all of the hysterical coverage in one headline: “NFL Is Being Overwhelmed with Domestic Violence Epidemic.”

Good news for cheerleaders wishing to date the quarterback, bad news for journalists pining to berate him: there is no NFL domestic violence epidemic.

“The media onslaught of updates, analysis, and opinion on what has been called the National Football League’s ‘worst week ever’ leaves a distinct impression: the NFL is a league stocked full of criminals,” Ross Pomeroy writes at Real Clear Politics. “Evidence, however, doesn’t bear that out.”

Pomeroy cites studies conveyed in Chance and at FiveThirtyEight.com to buttress his point.

After analyzing the statistics, criminologist Alfred Blumstein and sports writer Jeff Benedict informed in the statistics magazine Chance in 1999 that “NFL [crime] rates are less than half the general population rates.” This held for domestic violence. The authors conceded that “even though our initial assessment was that the NFL rates looked very high, we find them well below the rates for the general population.”   

Benjamin Morris, writing at the statistics blog FiveThirtyEight.com, discovered an NFL domestic violence arrest rate at slightly more than half the national average when he crunched the numbers and controlled for demographics this summer. Still, because the NFL arrest rate for domestic abuse eclipses the NFL arrest rate for other crimes, Morris posits that the NFL still suffers from a domestic violence problem. Maybe he’s right. One case is one case too many, and at last count, Ray Rice isn’t the only player accused–in Rice’s case the video evidence surely makes a mockery of the obligatory preface “alleged”–of striking a woman. And certainly the size and strength of the athletes increases, with justification, the public horror.

“Although this is still lower than the national average,” Morris concedes about the NFL domestic violence arrest rate, “it’s extremely high relative to expectations. That 55.4 percent is more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent), and domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.”

Is anyone surprised that journalists once again played Charlie Brown to Lucy pulling the pigskin away on an NFL meme? It’s the same tired story every fall.

George Will, ESPN’s LZ Granderson, CBS Sports’s Gregg Doyel, and so many others promoted the canard that NFL players die young. But when the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studied player mortality at the behest of the players’ union, the researchers reported in 2012 that football players outlived their peers outside of the sport. Researchers expected to find 625 deaths based on prevailing rates among the 3,439 pension-vested NFL players who competed between 1959 and 1988. Instead, they found just 334. Deaths among the peer group from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and in almost every listed category eclipsed deaths among NFL cohort.

Just as when one of the 2,000 or so NFL players hits a woman, a media feeding frenzy inevitably greets news that one of the 20,000 or so living men who have ever played in the league committed suicide. Articles in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Time pushed the idea that NFL players kill themselves at six times the national average. Breitbart Sports showed in a series on NFL suicide last winter that the suicide rate for men outside of the NFL actually more than doubles the suicide rate for NFL players. But because Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and Andre Waters were famous, and the janitor and the hairdresser and the stock broker who just killed themselves weren’t, we glean the impression that football players kill themselves in alarming numbers.

One would hope that journalists would be inoculated against the next killer-bees, shark-attack type media scare story that erupts about football players because the facts never seem to equal the hype in the last one. But the Fourth Estate’s track record isn’t as stellar as NFL player arrest records on this count. Football gets ratings and clicks. So it keeps getting hit.

Football is huge. So are the lies about it.

Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.


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