All too often we hear phrases like, “Professional athletes are thugs” or “criminals” or “they all abuse drugs.”
This language seems verified when nearly everyday we hear about professional athletes being arrested and charged with crimes.
In the public eye, athletes have a very poor reputation concerning character. Public perception of athletes is also very fragile and can be shattered by one serious criminal case.
The NFL is the most visible professional sports league in the United States. It is also the league that we hear the most about player arrests, including the recent high-profile domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.
For these reasons, the following data presented, which is derived from the NFL, will be used to represent all professional athletes.
In the NFL, there are 32 teams. Each team has 53 players on its active roster. Therefore, the minimum number of active NFL players each year is 1,696. That figure inevitably increases during the season as players get released, injured or otherwise cut from rosters and different players replace them.
We’ll round 1,696 and use 1,700 as our base figure for total active NFL players each year.
According to USA Today’s NFL player arrest database, from 2000-2013 inclusive, there were 718 total arrests of active NFL players, an average of just over 51 arrests each year. There have been 46 so far in 2014.
Using our base figure of 1,700 players, just 3 percent of the NFL is arrested each year.
That percentage is even lower when accounting for players who get arrested multiple times in the same year.
According to the FBI’s arrest records, an estimated 3.8 percent of the United States population was arrested in 2012. This means the arrest rate was 3,888 arrests per 100,000 people, compared to the NFL’s rate of 2,771 arrests per 100,000 in the same year.
In 2012, out of 1,700 NFL players, there were 47 arrests.
Per 1,700 U.S. citizens, there were 66 arrests in 2012.
The arrest rates in the U.S. as a whole and the NFL specifically are very similar. However, the numbers start to separate as we analyze more specific data.
The majority of NFL players are between the ages of 20 and 29.
According to the 2010 Census, there were 21,649,767 males between the ages of 20 and 29 in the U.S.
According to the FBI’s arrest records, there were 3,564,507 males between the ages 20 and 29 arrested in 2010.
That is an arrest rate of 16.5 percent or 16,464 arrests per 100,000 people, which translates to 280 arrests per 1,700 people.
The NFL’s arrest rate in 2010 was 3.2 percent or 3,184 per 100,000, with 54 total actual arrests out of its 1,700 players.
NFL players are actually arrested less frequently than U.S. citizens, especially when compared to citizens in the same age range.
Because NFL players are public figures, their arrests are much more publicized.
The reason why people think professional athletes are criminals or get arrested more than the rest of the country is that we hear about every arrest. Every time a professional athlete is arrested, it is broadcast to the public.
In reality, the culture among professional athletes simply reflects society.
Although NFL players are clearly arrested less frequently than the country’s population as a whole, the numbers are fairly similar.
The judgment and stereotyping of sports figures needs to stop. They are just as imperfect as everyone else. Generalizing them all based on the actions of the few is foolish and unfair.
Professional athletes are not necessarily the best people in the world either, but when a player gets arrested for domestic violence or any other crime, that is a problem with just that individual.
Not everyone who shares that individual’s line of work is guilty of that same crime.
There are problems in society that need fixing, and casting irrational judgment on athletes is not a solution.
According to the numbers, only three percent of NFL players each year could even be considered criminals. They are clearly not a large portion of our country’s problem.
Domestic violence is a serious issue, no matter how many cases are reported each year.
Current and former NFL players, and coaches have recently joined a campaign called “No More.”
According to nomore.org, the goal of the “No More” movement is to join together in the effort to end the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault.
This is just one of the actions that professional athletes have taken to promote positive messages.
Any crime in the community is something we all should discuss ways of fixing.
However, we should leave stereotypes out of that conversation. Not all athletes are thugs or criminals.
Let us see things as they really are and not let our perception be shaped entirely by what we see in the media.