The shocking news that Patriots star tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd has once again raised the question – does the NFL have a crime problem? Hernandez’ arrest, the tragic murder of Kassandra Perkins by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher, and the arrest of Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent, for manslaughter (for the death of his teammate Jerry Brown) are disturbing to all fans. While these crimes are horrific and disturbing, all NFL players should not be painted with a broad brush. NFL players are arrested much less often than men age 22 to 34 in the general population. Nonetheless, the 35 arrests of NFL players in the 2013 off-season are the most in the past decade and represent an increase of 75% relative to the 2012 off-season.
Over the past ten and a half years there have been 534 arrests of NFL players for offenses more serious than speeding (and lesser traffic violations). These data are based on the San Diego Union Tribune’s arrests database for NFL players and information reported by Fox Sports. Arrests of NFL players are much more likely to occur (36% higher) in the offseason. In other words, NFL players are more likely to be arrested between the beginning of February and the end of June than during summer training camps and the NFL season.
On average 0.78 NFL Players are arrested per team per offseason. The annualized arrest rate for NFL players (during the offseason) has averaged about 3.5% since 2003 compared to 9.9% for all men age 22 to 34 (based on FBI crime data). However, Commissioner Roger Goodell has reason to be concerned. As the graph below indicates arrests of NFL players were increasing when Goodell became NFL Commissioner in 2006. Between 2006 and 2012 off-seasons arrests fell by 37.5%. It is troubling that off-season arrests in 2013 were 75% higher than in 2012.
All players are not equally likely to be arrested. There are clear differences in arrests by position:
- Wide Receivers accounted for more than 1 out of 6 arrests
- Cornerbacks accounted for about 1 out of 7 arrests
- Linebackers accounted for 1 out of 8 arrests
- Punters and Kickers accounted for 1 out of 67 arrests
- Offensive Guards accounted for only 1 out of 107 arrests
There are also clear differences in arrest rates by team. Four teams had substantially more arrests than the NFL average of about 1.5 arrests per year. Arrest rates for the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans are about double the NFL average. Arrests rates for the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are about half of the NFL average.
The distribution of arrests is also skewed across players. Since 2003, Adam “Pac Man” Jones and Kenny Britt (both of the Tennessee Titans) were arrested 7 times, while Chris Henry (of the Cincinnati Bengals) was arrested 6 times. 16 other players were arrested at least 3 times since 2003.
The arrests of NFL players fell between 2006 and 2012 as Roger Goodell made the reduction of bad off-the-field behavior by players a priority. It is therefore disappointing to the NFL and its fans that arrests of NFL players are up 75% in the past year. However, NFL players still have a much lower arrest rate than men of a similar age in the general population. The horrific crimes allegedly committed by a handful of NFL players since last fall are shocking and disturbing but most players are arrested for much less serious crimes.
Note: For NFL players (and all persons arrested), an arrest is only an arrest and does not mean that the player was guilty of the crime for which he had been arrested. Many of the charges facing NFL players who were arrested were subsequently dropped.
Note: The FBI reported 2.64 million arrests of men age 22 to 34 in 2011 for offenses more serious than speeding and traffic violations (but including drunk-driving). The Census Bureau reports that the civilian population of men age 22 to 34 was about 26.6 million in 2010.