No Arrests of NFL Players in September Leads to Mock Applause

For the first month in six years, the police arrested not a single NFL player.

Hooray?

Even good news becomes bad news for the league paradoxically in perpetual PR crisis and drowning in money. The September to remember works more as a punch line than an applause line for the NFL.

After a headline that read, “NFL Goes a Month without Player Arrest for First Time Since 2009,” Ross Kelly at CBSLocal.com wrote: “Some headlines need a little more explaining than what’s given. The above headline doesn’t fall into that category.”

But it does.

Missing amid the message? The arrest rate in the NFL remains really, really, really low relative to the rest of America. A study in the statistics journal Chance found that “NFL [crime] rates are less than half the general population rates.” The 1999 article noted that “even though our initial assessment was that the NFL rates looked very high, we find them well below the rates of the general population.”

When Benjamin Morris at FiveThirtyEight.com looked at the rates for NFL players last year amid the uproar over the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal, he discovered an even smaller percentage of arrests compared to the public. This held true for domestic abuse, despite Rice, Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, and several more obscure players generating headlines.

“Although this is still lower than the national average,” Morris writes about the league’s 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.”

While the prose largely conformed to the surrounding media narrative, the statistics did not. Numbers showing a domestic-violence arrest rate roughly half of the peer group’s in society and an overall arrest rate about one-eighth of the arrest rate for comparable guys in society goes against the impression reinforced by Mike Rosenberg’s context-less tweets or Ross Kelly’s derisive article.

Has their been a month in the last six years when the cops did not nab a sports journalist for some crime or another? For whatever reason, we hear about the crimes committed by those who cover sports a lot less than the crimes by those who play them. In sports journalism as in sports, the players got each other’s backs.

Like sharks attacking humans on the beach or pervs abducting children on your street, the media obsesses over NFL players (and celebrities in general) who make their way to the police blotter—so readers, viewers, and listeners glean the impression that the league almost doubles as a crime syndicate. But teachers, preachers, clerks, and sodajerks endure their Rae Carruths, Aaron Hernandezes, and O.J. Simpsons, too. We just don’t see them every night on SportsCenter.

The NFL consists of roughly 2,000 players in a sex and age bracket that closely fits the crime demographic. Despite this, the players remained free from arrests in September. That’s more worth cheering than jeering.


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