Given the NFL’s perceived crime streak, including several recent high profile cases, it’s no wonder some see the league as a harbor for criminals.
Stories coming out of ESPN and the NFL Network sound all too familiar.
One instance that has drawn the most media frenzy is New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez being arrested for murder. During the same month, Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott was charged with attempted murder.
These stories continue over the years with highly publicized records of DUI manslaughter and more, such as the 2007 NFL crime of the year with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick convicted of competitive dogfighting.
However, the rate of arrest among pro athletes is less than half that of the general population. According to research published by the American Statistical Association, the NFL’s arrest rate of 2.9 percent pales in comparison to the arrest rate of males aged 22 to 34 in the general population — 10.8 percent. The 28 arrests of active NFL players in 2013 make up 1 percent of the NFL’s total population of active players, according to the Washington Times.
Football teaches children that when they see a player in the opposing uniform, they should take his head off. Despite this, The majority of the NFL consists of good Samaritans.
Media outlets flock to criminal stories, yet focus isn’t lent to Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, founder of the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, who set up trips to amusement parks and Chicago’s Soldier Field for chronically ill children. Similarly, former Atlanta Falcons running back Warrick Dunn provided more than 100 homes for single parents through his Home for the Holidays program.
The problem isn’t high criminal activity in the NFL but rather how the NFL deals with the 1 percent of players attributed to criminal activity. To say the league harbors criminals is preposterous.
In 2006, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was perceived as a strict leader — in-season arrests declined, but the story expands further. Under Goodell’s tenure, offseason arrests skyrocketed by 61 percent.
Josh Brent and Donte Stallworth, NFL players both charged with DUI manslaughter, are still active on NFL rosters. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, acquitted of murder charges related to a barfight, retired from the NFL peacefully as a two-time Superbowl MVP. Even Vick, after serving his prison sentence, revitalized his career with the Eagles.
By allowing their return after serving sentences with minimal, if any, repercussions, the NFL sets a precedent that criminal conduct is of minor importance to the league.
If a child is sent to detention for punching another student, would the parents forgive the child with no further punishment simply because he served time in detention?
Hernandez and Walcott won’t be returning to the NFL anytime soon, but these were team choices, uninfluenced by the league itself. The New England Patriots went as far as offering trade-ins for anyone who owns a Hernandez jersey.
The NFL reserves the right to be creative with consequences, for the crimes of players, like the Patriots are doing with Hernandez, but it does not take advantage of this right. It seems one is more likely to see a player punished by the NFL for illegal hits instead of murder or manslaughter.
Clearly the NFL isn’t as bad as some may believe, but as long as it takes a negligent approach in reprimanding its players, the fans have every right to think otherwise.