Should It Be The National Football League or The National Felon League?

Russell WatkinsContributor IJuly 2, 2009

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA - JULY 23:  In this image reviewed by the U.S. Military, a soccer ball sits inside an exercise area at the detention facility on July 23, 2008 at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, in Cuba. The military base is providing the location for the trial of Salim Hamdan, the former driver for Osama bin Laden, who is charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism and is the first prisoner to face a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II.  (Randall Mikkelsen-Pool/Getty Images)

This offseason has been pretty dang boring unless you’re either a Brett Favre, Michael Vick or Tom Brady fan. So I’ve been roaming around just about every major football site I can think of and a few constants keep jumping out at me. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon, but the regularity at which players run into trouble with the law is certainly more than a little bit disturbing.

The recent troubles of Donte Stallworth, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and even ex-NFLer Ryan Leaf got me thinking about the criminal history of the NFL as a whole and not just the front page makers.

Of course, with this being the NFL, having some of the most devoted and emotional fans can be a double-edged sword when one team’s player is suddenly thrown into the hoosegow. Mortal enemies instantly pounce at the first smell of blood and are relentless in their jibes and attacks of the team they hate so fervently.

Being a Ravens fan, I know firsthand the stigma that goes along with having a player’s reputation and name tarnished by unfortunate incidences that have occurred in the past. Yes, I’m talking about Ray Lewis.

It’s not a complete surprise that I would bring the man up of course; He is after all the heart, soul and leader of one of the best defenses in football today.

Now for the sake of this article’s length, I’m not going to go into details about the whole incident. Anyone with Google and a few minutes can find that out for themselves if they’re not already familiar with the event.


To make a long story short, on January 31, 2000 Ray was hanging with some friends during Super Bowl 34, when at a party a fight ensued. During the fight, two men were stabbed and killed, allegedly by Ray and his two buddies. Charges were filed, indictments were handed down and the case went to trial.

Witnesses testified on Ray’s behalf. The prosecution dropped their murder charges and Ray eventually ended up pleading down to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice since he didn’t want to testify against his friends. He was sentenced to one year probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL for the incident, a league record at that time.  

To add insult to injury, the following year Ray was back at the Super Bowl, but as a participant and not a spectator. The Ravens went on to win Super Bowl 35 and Ray Lewis was voted the MVP, but in a final twist because of the legal troubles a year earlier, Trent Dilfer, and not Ray Lewis got to say that famous line that every backyard QB has dreamed of saying since he could even hold a football: “I’m going to Disneyland.”

Whether you agree with the final legal outcome or not, the stigma of that event has followed Ray Lewis and the Ravens ever since. Even though Ray has since kept his nose clean and never been in trouble again, the Ravens were forever termed the team of “thugs” and “criminals.” Of course incidents with other players don’t exactly help, but none before or since have garnered the kind of debate that Ray’s incidence has. This begs the question. Are the Ravens really the “Thug Team” or is it all just an undeserved moniker?

I know some would argue that other teams more than fit the bill and depending on what team you root for, your mortal enemy might be that team just on principle. The Raiders come to mind as a team that is constantly tied to the idea of miscreants and no one can count out the Bengals for a decent byline or two every now and then.

With all the stories about DUIs, drug charges, car accidents and good old fashioned knuckle headedness, it got me thinking about what team truly is the league’s worst den of punks and troublemakers. So, I did a little digging and thanks to the website,  I was able to come up with a pretty comprehensive list of what teams lead the league in all around high-jinks.

To save space in an already growing article, I’m going to omit the offenses themselves and legal conclusions to these incidences since to go in depth would take forever. Also, keep in mind that with each conference, division and team I’ve only counted the number of total incidences. As we all know, with some teams there are often repeat offenders and with the constant trades, some offenders find new places to cause mayhem.

Remember this as well.

This isn’t an attempt to bash any particular team or conference. My intention was to lie to rest some of the misconceptions that many of us may have had about particular teams and their players. So here’s a by-the-numbers look at the legal conundrum that is the NFL. Since ESPN is doing the All-Decade stuff right now and the site I pulled the info from only goes back so far I’ll be using 2000-Present as my time span. Here we go!

Well, the NFC can start bragging and talking trash right now because the AFC leads the league in miscreants it seems.


American Football Conference (AFC): 273 total incidences

AFC West: 79 total incidences

  • Kansas City Chiefs: 24 incidences
  • Denver Broncos: 23 incidences
  • San Diego Chargers: 20 incidences
  • Oakland Raiders: 12 incidences

AFC North: 74 total incidences

  • Cincinnati Bengals: 29 incidences
  • Cleveland Browns: 17 incidences
  • Baltimore Ravens: 14 incidences
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: 14 incidences

AFC South: 69 total incidents

  • Jacksonville Jaguars: 25 incidences
  • Tennessee Titans: 20 incidences
  • Indianapolis Colts: 16 incidences
  • Houston Texans: 8 incidences

AFC East: 51 total incidences

  • Miami Dolphins: 20 incidences
  • Buffalo Bills: 13 incidences
  • New England Patriots: 11 incidences
  • New York Jets: 7 incidences

So the AFC West takes the overall lead for divisional incidences, but the Cincinnati Bengals take the crown for the most incidences by one team in all of the AFC.

National Football Conference (NFC): 187 total incidences

NFC North: 64 total incidences

  • Minnesota Vikings: 29 incidences
  • Chicago Bears: 17 incidences
  • Green Bay Packers: 11 incidences
  • Detroit Lions: 7 incidences

NFC South: 55 total incidences

  • New Orleans Saints: 15 incidences
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 15 incidences
  • Carolina Panthers: 14 incidences
  • Atlanta Falcons: 11 incidences

NFC East: 34 total incidences

  • New York Giants: 11 incidences
  • Washington Redskins: 9 incidences
  • Dallas Cowboys: 8 incidences
  • Philadelphia Eagles: 6 incidences

NFC West: 34 total incidents

  • Seattle Seahawks: 12 incidences
  • Arizona Cardinals: 8 incidences
  • San Francisco 49ers: 8 incidences
  • St. Louis Rams: 6 incidences

Here the NFC North takes the lead with the most incidences and the Minnesota Vikings take the crown for the most incidences by one team in all of the NFC.

All told, the NFL has had 460 incidences of players having run-ins with the law between 2000-present.

So what have we learned?

The AFC takes the trophy for all around knuckleheads by a long shot, but two teams—the Cincinnati Bengals (AFC) and the Minnesota Vikings (NFC)—are tied in a dead heat for the most incidences by an individual team at 29 a piece.

I was very surprised by some of the results. Some teams that I expected to have higher incidence rates than others were actually a lot lower and teams that I never thought of had way higher incidences than I ever imagined.

All in all, the never-ending saga of the NFL and it's troublesome elements definitely makes one think and wonder as to whether Roger Goodell will ever truly clean out the locker rooms or if that dark side of professional football will always be there regardless of stricter rules and more severe punishments.










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