The Off-the-Field Stats
Since 2000, 725 players have been arrested for violations greater than a speeding ticket. Some teams have a much larger problem with arrests than others. Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Denver averaged around 42 players arrested in that time span while St. Louis, Arizona, and Houston averaged only 11. Has this something to do with drafting criteria? Certainly some clubs look into character and background more than others.
Most arrests involve DUIs (202), but assault and battery (88), and domestic violence (85) are very significant. But how does this stack up to the general public? The results may be surprising but there are many factors to consider.
Are We Over-reacting to the NFL's Issues?
When the arrest rates of all NFL players are compared to all men 25-29 years of age, we find that NFL players are arrested, on average, at just 13% of the all 25-29 year old men rate! Domestic violence arrests are at 55.4% rate of the 25-29 male general population. So while the rate of domestic violence is less than the rate for all 25-29 males, it is much more of a problem in the NFL than say, theft, burglary, or fraud. In other words, in the NFL, “domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.” I draw from those statistics that having money can remove the incentive for theft, while it does nothing to remove or reduce learned violent behavior. Yet, overall, and in every category, NFL players are much less likely to be arrested than the average citizen.
Maybe we Aren't Over-reacting?
Does the lower rate of arrests for NFL players get them, and the NFL off the hook? Here are some things to consider. NFL players are in the top 1% of income levels. The average 25-29 year old males make about .05% (1/2000th) of an average NFL player (author estimate). If NFL players were compared to only the top 1% of all income levels, their arrests levels would, no doubt, skyrocket in comparison. Also, the NFL, their teams, and the players have the money to protect themselves legally, with professional mentoring, buddy assists, etc. Also, I confidently assume that less than ethical means are sometimes used to protect players through bribes, cover-ups, and turned heads.
The NFL doesn’t like bad actors either—to a degree! If a player gets in trouble but has marginal talent, he will likely be released, and quickly! However, if the player is popular or critical to the success of the team, or the NFL, he will get all the help he needs to minimize the situation. The NFL is not unlike other ‘families’, they protect their own in the interest of the family--until it’s no longer worth it to do so.
Can the NFL Negate a Poor Upbringing?
To me, it always comes back to the family. It doesn’t take a million dollar grant to learn that some of the best athletes come from unstable families. Look at Ray Rice. “Ray's father was gunned down in a drive-by shooting when he was 1 year old. Ten years later, his caretaking cousin and father figure died in a car crash.” He was raised on public assistance. This doesn’t make Ray Rice a bad guy, but his view of the world is different from many of us, even some of his NFL brethren.
Adrian Peterson also had serious family issues as a child. He lost his older brother at seven years of age after which his parents broke apart. When Adrian was 13, his father was arrested for laundering money for a crack-cocaine ring. Again, these facts were not any fault of Adrian Peterson, but he saw the world differently than if he had a responsible father to look up to. Jonathon Dwyer's childhood background has yet to be revealed, but I'm not expecting that his father mimicked the values of Bill Cosby.
Most likely, the lion’s share of arrests of NFL personnel involve those players who did not have solid family backgrounds. I can’t prove my theory of dysfunctional families regarding NFL players, but certainly the statistics prove that violence and ethical issues abound much more frequently in fatherless situations within the general public.
Even in the NFL, it’s all about the family. Just like parents that do not teach values nor punish digressions, the NFL has tacitly tolerated domestic violence as long as its flawed players benefit the NFL. The NFL is not responsible for the mindset of players entering their league, but it is the NFL’s responsibility to set standards and to enforce them! To some extent, they do. But it is clear to me that they pick and choose the standards and the punishment as it fits their needs, not with a blind eye for justice.
You will hear many praise the character and charity of tarnished NFL players. It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing good things. Many tarnished people do good things. In the book “The Godfather”, the main character did many good things. But he also took liberties in violent and/or unethical acts!
It (Almost) Always Goes Back to the Family
Yes. Pick any issue and I can find a way to bring it back to family, because so often, it is at least a factor. Money, fame, and preferred treatment does not change how these young men were raised. It just magnifies who they really are, whether that be good or bad. The responsible family shapes young men with purpose. Otherwise, they are molded with untrained and possibly immoral hands.
The NFL family knowingly takes chances with flawed young men, and that is good. It provides them an opportunity to become great citizens. But the NFL must be responsible for player conduct by establishing clearer standards and limits on behavior--and following through with proper punishment when appropriate. After all, the NFL is their new family, as long as they are winners.