Why Can't NFL and NBA Players Just Stay out of Legal Trouble?
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"Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing."—Warren Buffett
From 2000-2010, law enforcement officials arrested one in every 45 NFL players on average, one-third of those players for drunk-driving.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' fifth overall pick, Justin Blackmon, joined that contingent of NFL athletes in the early morning of June 10 near his Oklahoma State University stomping grounds in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
What can this case in particular reveal to us about the psyche of the young men afforded the privileges of money, adoration and endless social capital of playing in the NFL? Why does a small, but very real percentage of them so egregiously defy the law?
Justin Blackmon's case clearly demonstrates two particular traits absolutely crucial to understanding the reasoning behind the vast majority of professional-athlete-committed crimes, whether they're the run-of-the-mill DUI, Sam Hurd imitating Frank Lucas or the exotic but tragically-flawed O.J.'s Eleven plot.
One is the financial and social capital that naturally comes with a position on a professional sports team; the second is a cavalier approach to risk which that said position on a professional sports team most likely requires, particularly in a sport as dangerous as professional football.
Blackmon found himself charged with a DUI for the second time that weekend, though he blew numbers into the breathalyzer for the first time.
Which distorts reality more and leads to greater risk-taking?
Those numbers would be a two followed by a four—three times the legal limit in most states and far more than sufficient to launch the two-time Biletnikoff Trophy winner into contention for Aggravated DUI, (Read: not just drunk, but sweating pure Hennessey), which starts one DUI down the chart at a 0.15.
Blackmon's first DUI caught the then 20-year-old player in a position in which many Americans would admit they themselves had once put themselves: as an under-aged college student with unopened alcohol in their vehicle.
While Blackmon quickly acquitted himself on the field of what some would even go so far as to call a case of bad luck (pun intended), this more serious and publicized incident will leave a far darker mark on the public image of the tremendously talented wide receiver.
A study performed by the State of California revealed that 80 percent of all DUI offenders are male, and the average age is around 30 years old. More revealing, the group with the highest impairment rate were drivers from age 21-24, a demographic in which Blackmon and many of his NFL colleagues fit.
How much of this has to do with Blackmon's playing football?
It's undeniable that to succeed in a career like professional football, a candidate must ignore the inherent physical, emotional and psychological risks that come with exposing yourself to the rapacious criticism and physical punishment that vocation requires its practitioners to endure.
Certainly, if the NFL drugged rookies for a month after the draft, so they could feel what life was like as a 10-year NFL veteran at age 60, at the very least the instances of training camp holdouts would rise as players looked to secure a signing bonus sufficient to yield long-term healthcare provision.
And yet, NFL players commit DUI at a rate of one in 144, compared to a national average of...drum roll, please...one in 135.
So while yes, NFL players must be risk-takers in order to get and do their jobs, it seems like as far as DUI goes, being young and male puts them just as much at risk of drunk-driving as being in the NFL.
Simply put, Justin Blackmon didn't think he could make it home because he's an NFL wide receiver; Justin Blackmon thought he could make it home because he's a 22-year-old male.
But what about other offenses or other leagues, like the NBA?
Despite its bad-boy image, the NBA produced a paltry nine arrests in the first eight months of 2010, compared to over three times as many by the NFL and seven times as many in NCAA football, according to a Sports Illustrated study.
The NBA fields around 400 athletes a year, compared to over 1,500 NFL players. By those numbers, the arrest ratio between the NBA and NFL would appear rather similar. NCAA football crime statistics reveal only what we already know: The younger you are, the more likely you are to commit a crime.
With respect to violent crime, a 1999 Duke University study found that NFL players committed violent crime at a rate below the national average, even taking factors like age and race into account.
The college-campus setting of Blackmon's case further reveals the situation on the ground, because DUI accounts for the "bulk" of the 1,700 a-year average of alcohol related deaths among college students, according to Dr. John D. Clapp of the US Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.
If a fraternity brother, sorority sister, college Democrat/Republican, RA or any other person affiliated with an on-campus group made SportsCenter every time they endured an unfriendly encounter with the campus police, we would soon be asking if any time of human association leads to a privileged mentality.
Unlike OJ Simpson or Sam Hurd, Justin Blackmon has a chance to redeem himself. Given that his contract will now undoubtedly reward the 22-year-old liability with considerably fewer dollars after his second DUI, the freakishly gifted Blackmon shouldn't have to look hard to find motivation.
So what does a closer examination of NFL players reveal? Like the whole of America, the vast majority of NFL players don't drive drunk, beat their wives or moonlight slangin' dope on the side.
But a large percentage of Americans who do commit these crimes fall between the ages of 18-30, where the vast majority of NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA athletes fall, demographically speaking. And an even stronger majority of those criminals are male, like the entirety of all three major sports leagues.
If you commit a crime in America, odds are you're a male aged 18-30. If you play in the NFL, NBA or MLB? There's a far greater chance you're in that demographic.
You can follow me on Twitter: @StepanekButton
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