Monday, April 07, 2008

True Crime, NFL style

The NFL draft is around the corner.

That means a lot of things for NFL teams. Once it just meant identifying the best player available in the draft. Now, with free-agency, it's about the best player available at a position of need...accounting for the potential future player passing a background check - the impact of living in the information age, and one of the costs of the growth of the sport.

As the sport has grown its fan-base, and tightened its grip on the hearts of the hardcore fans, the NFL owners have found significant profits to be made with the casual fan. In order to keep those dollars flowing, the days of the outlaw football player have become numbered.

It used to be that talent trumped all.

There has been a shift.

Talent might keep a player on a roster in spite of criminal behavior, but with the likelihood of suspension and the loss of a significant player with no cap relief, teams have begun to weigh the merits of whether or not that talent is worth the trouble.

The Cincinnati Bengals, once thought to be a talented team on the rise, now a cautionary tale about what could happen to a team should it ignore those character issues, just parted ways with chronically troubled wide-out Chris Henry. With both Henry and former college teammate and NFL bad boy Adam "Pacman" Jones in the news recently, I decided to do some research into the criminal behavior of NFL players.

Approximately one year ago there was a fascinating article in the San Diego Union-Tribune regarding the subject, providing some telling numbers.

From 2000 to 2007 there were 308 incidents in which active NFL players had run-ins with the law, approximately 40 percent of the violations were committed by 50 players with multiple offenses and two teams stood out with as having the most multiple offenders - the Vikings (pleasure boat, anyone?), and the aforementioned Bengals.

It notes that defensive back and wide receiver accounted for 130 of the incidents while offensive line and quarterback only 41.

This jives with an anecdotal review I did of a random sampling of 64 players who have been arrested since 2000. The breakdown of what I found just based on 64 players identified in random Internet searches was that 18 defensive backs, 11 wide receivers, 10 defensive linemen, 8 linebackers, 7 offensive linemen, 5 running backs, 2 quarterbacks, and one kicker were represented in the random sampling.

Twenty-nine of 64 players were either wide-outs or defensive backs, or 45 percent of the offenders...anecdotally speaking, that is. Going by the SD-Trib's numbers based on the number of offenses rather than the number of players at the position, the numbers remain fairly even with receivers and DB's accounting for 42.2 percent of the offenses.

Interestingly, the NFL has averaged overall about one offense per 45 players per year - well below the national average for the general population. This fact is highly touted by the NFL when defending criminal activity in the league.

While it is something to be proud of considering the NBA has been unable to make the same claim, it also must be noted that the NFL population is a population sans poverty - the highest crime demographic in the United States.

One of the interviewees for the article noted that he believed that many of the offenses occur because so many athletes are held above personal accountability and thus feel they are above the law. While I believe there is some truth to this statement, I also think that it vastly simplifies a much more complex issue.

Yes, the players in the NFL make obscene salaries. Even those making the minimum for a year are still making well over six years worth of the highest salary I have ever made. That doesn't mean that poverty doesn't play a part. People like Mike Vick, Chris Henry, and Pacman Jones all come from high-crime, low-income neighborhoods. This is not an excuse for their behavior, just a search for a deeper reason why someone smart enough to remember a phone-book sized play-book would be dumb enough to repeatedly do the same stupid thing, whether illegally fighting dogs or assaulting people at strip clubs.

The question that I did not address when looking at the list I compiled was filial finances while growing up. However, it is easy to note that a number of the players who have been arrested - Vick, Jones, Henry, Rae Carruth, Ray Lewis, and Sean Taylor among them - came from among what would be considered the disenfranchised.

What the numbers do present, however, is another question. Assuming for an average of five wide receivers and eight defensive backs per 53-man NFL roster: how is it that 24.5 percent of the players in the NFL account for almost half of the league's criminal activity? What is it about those positions that is the problem? For that I have no answer.


Suldog said...

Totally flip psychology, but those are the guys who have speed, have the confidence that they can get away from whoever is covering them (or will have nobody get away from them) and who make the big dazzling plays more often than other positions mostly do. The mindset is such that getting away with something (drug usage, theft) may not be seen as such an insurmountable thing as it would be for a 325 pound lumbering tackle who has probably been easily identifiable his entire life no matter what little thing he's tried to get away with.

Kevin Smith said...


It is interesting that it seems to come from the fastest players on the field. It is also interesting to note that the most common offenses are related to drinking and driving. However, weapons charges did pop up fairly often as did various forms of assault including domestic abuse.

Chris Henry of course is a microcosm, having been charged with assault, possession of illegal substances, providing alcohol to minors, gun charges, driving on an expired license.

Whereas he had the teammate, one of the linemen, arrested for boating while drunk...possibly the most original charge I have seen in all of this.

I'll have to consider that theory. It is an interesting idea.