Does the NFL Have a Problem with Player Arrests?

Dan HopeContributor IIIJuly 20, 2012

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger GoodellAl Bello/Getty Images

Since becoming the National Football League’s commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell has made a strong and consistent effort to protect the league’s integrity and public image. By punishing players for violations of the league’s personal conduct policy, he has set out to deter players from participating in unlawful and unethical activity.

Unfortunately, Goodell’s efforts have been undermined by a multitude of recent arrests this offseason.

This past week has been a particularly bad one for the NFL’s public reputation and is one that is certain to lead to not only serious legal consequences for multiple players, but also league fines and suspensions for their violations of the personal conduct policy.

This span of off-field trouble got off to a strong start on Saturday, when Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil was arrested for alleged aggravated assault with a firearm. On Monday Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant joined him in the police logs with an arrest for alleged assault on his own mother.

Two separate arrests for driving under the influence, of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, were also reported this week.

These well-known NFL players have not been alone in their transgressions this offseason. In total there have been 28 arrests of NFL players since the Super Bowl, according to Business Insider (Quinn's arrest occurred after BI published the story).

At first glance these numbers appear very high and shine a very bad light upon the reputation of NFL players.

However, it is important to take these arrests into perspective before making judgments upon the maturity and responsibility of NFL players.

Two players (Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure, who interestingly enough are both second-year players on the Detroit Lions) have been arrested twice this offseason, dropping the number of total players arrested since Feb. 5 down to 26.

Even if one assumes that all 26 of these players make their teams' final rosters—and most will not—they still make up only roughly 1.533 percent of the NFL’s player population (based upon the number of 53 players on 32 teams, which does not account for players on reserve lists).


According to the FBI’s Crime in the U.S. report from 2010 (the 2011 report has not yet been published), an estimated 4.2576 percent of the U.S. population was arrested over the course of that calendar year.

Even when the NFL’s 2012 offseason arrested-player rate is adjusted to account for those 26 players' being arrested over only a five-and-a-half-month span, the percentage still comes out to roughly only 3.345 percent, almost one percentage point lower than that of the full U.S. population.

Timing, however, is also a very important factor in this study.

The recent spike in NFL arrests over the past week is not coincidental. With NFL training camps opening next week, many players are reveling in their final opportunities of the summer to live freely before the physical, emotional and time-consuming grind of the NFL season begins.

Unfortunately, these final weeks of freedom often lead to poor decisions that can come with very serious consequences.

During the season players have significantly less time and opportunity to get in off-field trouble, while additionally having significantly more motivation to stay out of trouble as they focus on their efforts to win football games each week.

Therefore, it should be expected that there will be fewer than 28 NFL arrests from the time training camps begin until the conclusion of the season with Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, 2013.

Driving under the influence has been the leading reason for NFL arrests this offseason, with the recent arrests of Lynch and Quinn bringing the total of DUI-related arrests to 11. Adjusted to a 12-month period, which again is likely to be higher than the actual total through the 2013 Super Bowl, that equates to roughly 1.415 percent of all NFL players.

In this case, the NFL players came in way ahead of the U.S. totals; using the FBI’s 2010 crime data and the 2010 U.S. population determined by the 2010 U.S. Census, only roughly 0.457 percent of Americans were arrested for driving under the influence in 2010.

However, this may still be an unfair indictment of the NFL’s player population.


Should NFL players really be held to a higher moral plane than the rest of U.S. citizens?

While football fans look up to NFL players as heroes, superstars and role models, it is important to remember that the players are human too. Everyone makes mistakes, and professional athletes are no exception; unfortunately, for both NFL players and non-NFL players alike, some mistakes are sometimes much worse than others.

Yes, it is a very valid point to be made that NFL players make much more money than the average U.S. citizen, and with every mistake they make, they could potentially be throwing away incredible opportunities that so many others wish they could have.

Also, because they are looked up to as role models by many, that comes with the expectation of handling themselves as professionals both on and off the field.

That said, it is unreasonable to expect all NFL players to abide by the law at all times.

NFL players have to deal with considerably more physical, mental and emotional stress than most people, and being in positions of fame and money comes with frequent opportunity and temptation for wrongdoing.

Additionally, the perception of NFL players as largely criminal is unfair to the players who have not been arrested, which has been more than 98 percent of the total player population this offseason.

While there are certainly select individuals across the league with serious issues to deal with, those issues are dealt with on individual bases, not only by the U.S. legal system but also by the commissioner’s office. Considering the severity of their alleged crimes, Dumervil, Bryant, Lynch and Quinn should all face very serious consequences if they are convicted.

Overall, however, recording 28 arrests this offseason does not mean that the NFL has a problem with criminals, nor do 11 DUI-related arrests mean the league is inundated with irresponsible alcoholics.

There will always be players who make serious off-field mistakes, and we can only hope that they will be able to overcome their issues and improve their behavior, while dealing with the consequences that they deserve.

Nonetheless, as long as the overwhelming majority of NFL players are keeping their names out of the police logs, the league should not be perceived as having a problem with keeping its players in line.


Thanks for reading!

Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.