Keeping Score

NFL Arrests Are Rising. Why That’s A Surprise.

Given all the economic incentives to stay on the field, why are NFL players getting into trouble? And what else can be done to stop bad behavior?

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Former patriots player Aaron Hernandez is brought into Attleboro District Court in Attleboro, Mass., on June 26, 2013.
John Tlumacki / Boston Globe / Getty Images

Former patriots player Aaron Hernandez is brought into Attleboro District Court in Attleboro, Mass., on June 26, 2013.

The first degree murder charges against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez have shed light on a disturbing trend: since the Super Bowl in early February, 31 NFL players have been arrested, according to a database compiled by U-T San Diego. Other incidents include attempted murder charges against former Cleveland Browns rookie Ausar Walcott, after he allegedly punched a man outside a New Jersey club, and gun charges against Indianapolis Colts safety Joe Lefeged, who was arrested this past weekend after he fled police during a traffic stop.

According to labor economist Stephen Bronars, the off-season arrest rate for NFL players is up 75% year-over-year. “This might be a blip that won’t last,” says Bronars. “But it’s not good.” The annualized NFL off-season arrest rate is much lower than the national arrest rate for men ages 22 to 34: 3.5% since 2003 compared to 9.9% for all men aged 22 to 34 (since 2000, NFL arrests are 36% more likely to occur in the off-season).

Bronars, however, considers NFL arrests rates “surprisingly high,” given that NFL players have such short windows to earn millions of dollars. The average NFL career is about 3.5 years; the opportunity cost of suspensions, lost endorsement income, or being released because of misconduct is enormous.

(MORE: The Latest In The Aaron Hernandez Investigation: Arrests, Tatoos, And Jersey Swaps)

Plus, when you compare NFL players to other professionals earning, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars while working for a thriving corporate enterprise, the bad behavior seems even more out of whack. “The arrest rates do seem high relative to highly-paid workers in most companies,” says Bronars. But Bronars also notes that NFL players are, on average, significantly younger than high earners who have spent years rising up the corporate ladder. And in general, younger men are more likely to be arrested than older men.

Back in 2007, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell instituted stricter punishment for player misconduct, in response to an escalating number of arrests. Is this off-season proof that this deterrent hasn’t worked? Jason Lisk of The Big Lead crunched some numbers, and found that even though off-season arrests have pretty much declined from the peak 2006 level that prompted Goodell’s measures, the longer view looks much different. From 2000 to 2006, the NFL averaged 17.7 player arrests during the off-season. From 2008 through 2013 – Lisk excluded 2007 from this calculation, since Goodell instituted the new policies halfway through that off-season — the NFL has averaged 28.5 arrests per off-season. That’s a 61% increase.

Lisk notes that increased media attention on player misbehavior might contribute to the higher arrest numbers from recent years in the U-T San Diego database. In fact, the database itself makes such a disclosure. But no matter how you parse the data, if the NFL truly believes that, as spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today Sports, “one [arrest] is too many,” the league should probably take some kind of action. But what else can the NFL do? Lisk proposes an intriguing idea: economic incentives for good conduct. “The league could look at team level awards such as cap space or consider the equivalent of compensatory picks for good offseason behavior of an organization’s players, so that there is internal peer pressure to be a good citizen,” Lisk writes. On an individual level, Lisk writes that “the league could institute a bonus pool, and like those signs at work sites that tell us how many days the site has been accident-free, the players could get recognized for being drama free. Payouts to veterans could increase over time–a good citizen bonus for years of service without incident.”

Could this work? Sure, if the rewards were significant. And if any sports league could afford them, it’s the NFL. But such a policy would “have a weird element to it,” says Shane Frederick, a marketing professor at Yale University who has taught courses in behavioral economics and sports management. “You’re supposed to not get arrested,” says Frederick. “You shouldn’t be rewarded for normal behavior.” Bronars thinks Lisk’s proposals “wouldn’t hurt, but I’d be skeptical it would have much of an effect,” he says. Punishments for teams that exceed a threshold level of player arrests, Bronars says, are also worth considering. If an organization were to, say, lose draft picks or salary cap space thanks to these incidents, they may be less likely to acquire risky talent, and be more invested in keeping players out of trouble.

By the NFL’s own admission — “one [arrest] is too many” — the current policies haven’t worked too well. The risks of sitting still are just too high.

(MORE: Aaron Hernandez Patriots Jerseys Are Selling Big On eBay)

103 comments
SteltonStation
SteltonStation

Mr. Gregory, thank you for comparing the NFL arrest rate to the national arrest rate of men in the NFL-eligible age range.  However, there is still one inequity in that comparison, and I for one would like to see the numbers reflect it: how does the NFL arrest rate compare to the arrest rate of American men who earn an equivalent amount of money? (and yes, how does the NFL rate compare to 22-34-year-old men in that economic bracket??)  Those figures could be enormously revealing…!!

comediclogic7
comediclogic7

What about the Rams coming back to Los Angeles

comediclogic7
comediclogic7

Performetrics Chronicles Vol 8 teaches I Ching, Astrological, Seventh Stupa profiling instead of credit reports for hiring read it if you can get through the Cipher then there will be no criminals....

comediclogic7
comediclogic7

Book One of Definemensional Harmontics is Called 'The Higher Comedic State, Volume 1 Traveling in the mud.  Can NFL football players read?

comediclogic7
comediclogic7

Football players need education reform One that is popular among them they should go to Amazon.com and try Volume 1 through 9 of Definemensional Harmontics? 

comediclogic7
comediclogic7




football players need to read Definemensional Harmontics volume 12 book series 

joesixpack123
joesixpack123

Because these idiots can't seem to leave the streets behind and move on with their lives.

JackKennedy1
JackKennedy1

Big muscular people. Eventually murder comes to the mind

Davidp070
Davidp070

The problem is the NFL and NBA are both thugball sports. They hire thugs and then act surprised to see the players act like thugs.

TrickyDick
TrickyDick

Hmmmm.  Politically correct.  How do we tapdance around Murder??  Just really poor behavior??  Carrying weapons on planes — or at least trying to??  Punching people out because they just don't like them??  These folks do no desereve the adolation they are given, and ESPECIALLY the money!  You just make a bigger drug user out of a 3-time loser.  We celebrate "celebity" FAR TOO MUCH!  These are just spoiled people with too much money and perceived power.  This has been going on for decades now, and we never seem to think hardly anything of it...  Oh, wait!  Maybe it has to be MURDER before the Big Light Bulb goes on over our addled brains.  

hummingbird06
hummingbird06

" Economic incentives for good conduct"??? Are you freaking kidding me??? They already HAVE economic incentives, including a greater per annum salary then any of the rest of us honest hard-working NON-CRIMINAL people have, plus endorsements. 

Pro sports should be abolished. They're just a front for criminal enterprises, and now they're starting to attract like kind.

FredSchmertz
FredSchmertz

it used to be a scum bag was a scum bag. he wouldnt get drafted, no one took the risk if they could help it.  now you cant help it ~ fans would rather win on the back of a criminal than know their team took a stand up guy who wasnt as good.  


TRUTH.

reesedorrycott
reesedorrycott

Perhaps if they were given more chances, after all they mostly came from such disadvantaged backgrounds.  Why, we must be politically correct and remember their skin color along with their lack of education...


Book 'em Danno.

massconn72
massconn72

It's just like the NBA; you can take them out of the jungle, but you can take the jungle out of them!

TGuggenheim
TGuggenheim

Oh, here is a wild idea...how about, like in most places of work, you lose your job when you are arrested.  Clean up professional sports already.

kwood1
kwood1

You watch - they (the players) will figure out some way to convince the owners and everyone else that, if they were simply paid even MORE money, then they would stop doing this crap.

Here's an idea - how about automatically banning, for life, any player who's arrested for a felony crime? Considering the fact that most felons have a hard time getting good paying jobs here in the "real world," why should that be such a tough thing to impose?

MikeKelter
MikeKelter

The NFL is the only place besides the US government where you can get away with murder and still keep your job.  Does that clue you in to why there is a discipline problem in both organizations?

IanMacDonald
IanMacDonald

Most of the comments on here are completely stupid.

For the record, most of the arrests are related to DUI, a common problem among 20 something year olds, which most of the NFL players are.

Thanks for reminding me how most americans are just plain idiots.

ErnestLamonica
ErnestLamonica

I have a clue for you its called PED. Ever hear of it? Well when the NFL gets around to testing for HGH (Human Growth Hormones), which it has promised for years, you will see 30-40% of players fail that test. Everything else stems from PED being taken in college to make it to the NFL and then staying in the NFL. Anyone who goes out in America and  socializes in bars, clubs, where ever or plays any sports knows how rampant PEDs are in the youth culture.   

vladscam762
vladscam762

We live in a nation that's in denial of the truth. A story like this gets posted and just by reading the comments you can tell who lives around the thugs and who doesn't. The naive comments from the sheltered, elitist, liberals here are priceless because they live in white bread land on the "right" side of the tracks. Live on my street for a week. You would change your tune in the first 24 hours.

KristopherLoviska
KristopherLoviska

I have the perfect financial incentive for good behavior...Let them remain in the league, earning minimum 6 figure salaries.  Geez...if the incentive to keep earning that kind of money isn't enough, what level of financial incentive WOULD be enough?

TomWakely
TomWakely

I stopped watching pro ball years ago. As soon as it became the National Felons League I switched channels.

nuclearmike55
nuclearmike55

Who is surprised as the NFL is "thug-town" as the NFL has chosen to ignore drugs, violence and agression because without these characteristics you don't have a winning football player...

erikrsears
erikrsears

Man, I wish I could earn incentives at my job for being good when I'm not at work.  Seriously?  The last couple of paragraphs are absurd.  Making millions of dollars and fame should be plenty of incentive.  If they can't stay out of jail, that's their own fault.  If more teams would release their players upon charges being filed, then maybe that would help decrease some of the stupidity.  Though, most of it comes from being at bars or nightclubs too late into the evening (or too early in the morning). 

milenkoscatering
milenkoscatering

of course on the rise, they employ 90% of  thugs, what do you expect?

clydetrains
clydetrains

The NFL has a drug problem. Guys are running around with steroids and who knows what else in their systems so people shouldn't be surprised that there are these kinds of problems. This problem will continue until the NFL's owners and players' union acknowledges and addresses it. Until then, the violence and suicides will continue.

alyssa.hewitt9
alyssa.hewitt9

Well, since you can be Michael Vick and get convicted of a felony and STILL come back and play football for big money, I don't see the trend changing.


These leagues are responsible for the monsters they create. It should be league policy that if you are arrested and charged you are subject to expulsion and if you are convicted you ARE expelled, no ifs ands or buts.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Look at the racial composition of those players who were arrested.  The overwhelming majority of them were minorities.

Should this really surprise anyone?

KirkW.Effinger
KirkW.Effinger

Some interesting things I have noticed: 1) MLB athletes, also highly paid, do not seem to have nearly the same ratio of arrests for violent crimes as do the NBA or NFL. This suggests the arrests have nothing to do with a sense of entitlement conferred on the athletes because of their new found wealth. 2) Athletes in the NFL like Tim Tebow are ridiculed ad nauseum  in the media and elsewhere for being "goody-goody" whereas bad boy players and whole teams like the Raiders and the old Dallas "Convicts" of bygone days are heralded for their prowess. Team owners in every sport (baseball included) are willing to put up with almost anything if it puts money in their pocket...until that player's actions are exposed and become a liability.

ep451
ep451

Clearly the number of arrests has increased since the NFL has refused to promote Obamacare! The Obama administration is clearly targeting NFL players. Darrel Issa should start an investigation! (possibly he already has?) This leads straight to the WH. Impeach Obama.

PS: I hope no one takes this post seriously…

caarecengi
caarecengi

Seriously, the NFL and NBA actually compete to see which league has more criminals

Two words: Delonte West

copokerpro
copokerpro

Most athletes have no self esteem.  That's why they work so hard to get everyone else to worship them.  They'll do anything to gain credibility including being a thug to get street cred.  It not about being a bad a__, it's about seeming like you're a bad a__

edlf
edlf

NFL arrests are rising.   Not so surprising, many professional athletes look like prison inmates with their multi tattoos up and down their arms, their necks, their whatever.  Find examples for the many children who look to these stars? as their heroes.

arobinette
arobinette

Being overpaid as it is, plus getting a bonus for not getting arrested.  You can certainly tell when a union has a profession by the balls.

wilabern
wilabern

Why are very very few of the arrested white players?


psychfreak1145
psychfreak1145

this is silly. you don't need an economics professor. it's simple. don't draft them. the league puts emphasis on performance above and beyond character, then spend all their time trying to deal with the fallout of drafting men who grew up getting special treatment because they were athletes and never had any accountability. graduating from their college is a farce. Aaron Hernandez has always misbehaved. but he could catch a football. now that murder charges are sticking, it's oh what's wrong with the league. give me a break. as long as football continues to be a business (yes, even high school football is a BUSINESS), there will be a win-at-all-costs mentality and they will continue to cultivate a culture of look the other way until it gets in my way, and they will continue to draft criminals. 

IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy

Testosterone is awesome when it comes to "though sports" though is a serious menace in ordinary life. The same chemical elements that make you hitting a home-run by squeezing the last bit of energy out of your body also makes you susceptible and receptive to violence and all sorts of hissy fits. You don't get the one without the other.

worddotjones
worddotjones

Pretty funny, all things considered. 

The local demi-god Tim Tebow was at the Gainesville FL fight that Hernandez got into during his UF tenure. Tried to break it up, according to press reports. But didn't want his image sullied in the press [being @ bar, involved in a fracas?], so he is identified Witness #1. The 20013/14 starting middle linebacker assaulted a bouncer, a felony arrest, btw. He was embarrassed by not being identified or being able to get in to a bar, and hollered "Don't you know who I am? I'm Antonio!" Jailed, released, deferred punishment. HA!

Wait 'til he gets to the NFL....

treehuggrz
treehuggrz

Why would ANYONE offer a bonus for good behaviour? These people are making insane amounts of money....  and doing anything they please with no resulting consequence.


Instead of offering a bonus for good behaviour, I suggest a cancelled contract and jail time for bad. That should be more then enough incentive. After all the rest of us have that same incentive offered every single day.

DERON
DERON

It starts in elementary school...We don't teach kids about respecting others, or about team work and responsibility, or how to loose.  Every kid gets a ribbon, or a medal or a pat on the back regardless of who they are, they are all super stars who can achieve and obtain anything they dream of.  Sounds great, but it is not reality.  Learning to loose, and understanding that everyone is not equal, is not a harmful lesson and builds respect and compassion for others.  It is not just football, it is a whole generation lof self-entitled young people (my kids included).  Have you met a young person lately who does not possess an overabundance of self-esteem?  They don't know anything but they sure feel good about what they don't know!   Too may young people have no compassion or respect for the property or life of others.  Please excuse my generalizations - I know it is not everyone, but it is a disturbing social trend that permeates all aspects of life...sports, business, politics, Wall Street anyone???

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

Before making millions for participating in a violent sport these guys were surrounding themselves doing bad things and never dropped those people when they began making money. If everytime Joe Lefeged was pulled over he was arrested it may not make sense to him to just pull over and pay the ticket issued.( remember football causes a lot of brain damage). The incentives won't work if these guys never ditch old communities that only got them in trouble.

CharlesNorrisJr
CharlesNorrisJr

I'll watch a game, on TV, if it's good, otherwise there are 256 other channels or do something else. I don't buy any of the merchandise or spend time working on Fantasy Football. Like some of the other comments, a significant number of players lack discipline during their 'formative' years, it never comes from their parent(s), coaches, teachers, whomever so it's really no surprise once they're adults and making insane amounts of money that they will continue to act in a manner consistent with their level of maturity, or lack there of. 

If the NFL wants to present a professional image then impose severe penalties, but unfortunately, lawyers/the league is all about making $$$ so just like their early life, complete tolerance...

brenro12
brenro12

Economic incentives for acting like normal human beings? Are you crazy? These professional athletes are already paid ridiculously high salaries which is where their above us all attitudes come from in the first place. Stop paying these exorbitant ticket prices and stop elevating these ball players to god-like status. I like watching sports as well as anyone but come on people they're just boys playing with balls.

Disgusted
Disgusted

Change the channel and stop subsidizing NFL owners and players.   The football game we've allowed to develop is unhealthy physically and mentally.

Time for the U.S. to ditch football and really join the international community.  I could see Rugby as a replacement for football.  Better yet, how about ditching the boys' club mentality and develop mixed Soccer, coed Volleyball and Ultimate Mixed?

JenCord
JenCord

Many players are not "taught" in school or at home.  They are told from the minute they show any aptitude for athletics they will make it big one day.  We see it even in elementary schools.  There are kids that spend 2-3 hours a day during the week and all day Saturday on the football field or basketball court but do not have time to complete homework.  Athletes should have to earn the same academic and conduct grades, as well as comparable ACT/SAT scores that all other college students must earn to get accepted into college.  If the NCAA changed just that one rule, you would see a difference.  

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