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Pro football may be more law-abiding than most

Date published: 7/23/2013

LOCK UP the women and children. Send in the drones. The NFL hooligans are rampaging. Or not.

National Football League players' legal issues are easy targets for comedians. Jay Leno says Los Angeles has one of the lowest crime rates of any major city because L.A. doesn't have an NFL team. He also says sociologists have discovered the No. 1 cause of prison overcrowding: "Apparently it's the NFL."

On the surface, it has been a rough 2013 so far for the pro players. The year's first six months saw 39 arrests. Titus Young, then of the Detroit Lions, was nabbed three times in one week.

Eleven of the arrests were for impaired driving or public drunkenness, and several others were of a non-violent nature, but murder charges against (now former) New England tight end Aaron Hernandez have raised the profile of NFL-related crime. The image that emerges is of large, young, entitled, testosterone-rich males running amok.

The facts are a little less damning:

There are about 1,700 players in the NFL. If 39 get arrested in the second half of the year as well (and that's not likely; in-season arrests tend to plummet as players have less free time to rape and pillage), that would mean 4.6 percent of NFL players had been arrested, even if you didn't have multiple arrests of one person.

There were about 120,000 million American males over the age of 18 in 2012. According to the Department of Justice, that group accounted for about 7 million arrests in that group. That comes out to 5.8 percent.

The average American adult male, in other words, is more than 25 percent more likely to be arrested than the average NFL player.

Pro football players are the perfect storm. They are young. They are physically imposing--if they want to beat someone up, they probably can. They have a lot of money, a lot of off-season free time, a lot of sycophants enabling them, and a lot of opportunity to do bad things. In some ways, it's amazing they don't make the crime log more often than they do.

A few of them commit heinous acts--such as that with which Aaron Hernandez is charged. So do some accountants, lawyers, and politicians. Even journalists have been known to stray from the straight and narrow.

Viewed in this light, the NFL's rap sheet is not so remarkable.


For our money, it wasn't 43-year-old Phil Mickelson's come-from-behind, birdie-studded fourth round at the British Open on Sunday that formed the most memorable part of the day. It was the scene of his wife and three children running into his wide-open arms after he sealed the victory.

Marriage. Family. Fidelity. Maybe some of our trouble-prone professional athletes ought to give that par-three a try.