You Can Blow Smoke About A Crime Problem, But NFL Players Are Relatively Law-Abiding By A Wide MarginS

This morning, Jeffri Chadiha wrote a piece for ESPN about the attention that must be paid to the "dirtiest of the NFL's little secrets"—drunken driving, domestic violence and guns:

There comes a point where grieving, lamenting and wondering why these tragedies have happened just isn't enough. At some point, accountability and responsibility come into question.

That's where the NFL sits today, as it has lost its second player in a week for what amounts to disturbingly poor judgment. For a league that has talked about player safety, player conduct and the value of "protecting the shield," it's time to rethink how it's addressing some of the less discussed issues affecting its brand.

He's right, there does come a point: it was six years ago, in 2006, when the league saw 68 of its players arrested. Since then, there's been a fairly precipitous decline in NFL player arrests. Stephen Bronars puts it in graph form over here, and the numbers are fairly stark: Arrests are down 40% since the 2006 peak, and over the last decade—including the bad years—NFL players are about a quarter as likely to commit a crime as the average male aged 22-34 (2.9% of players compared to 10.8% of men). 2006, in case you had forgotten, is the year that Roger Goodell took over for Paul Tagliabue.

The problem is that drunken driving, domestic violence and gun possession don't seem to rate nearly as high [as illegal tackles, dogfighting and bounties] on the league's list of issues that must be addressed.

Clearly, that can't be true, unless we're looking at a massive coincidence: Bronars, with the help of this running tally kept by the San Diego Union-Tribune and updates from Fox Sports, looked at every arrest more severe than a traffic violation over the past decade—drunken driving, domestic violence and gun possession all rate. Say what you will about Roger Goodell, but interventionist methods of protecting the NFL's image are a strong suit.

Arrests don't necessarily align precisely with incidence—undoubtedly, players get away with crimes, just like everyone—but it seems unlikely that the percentage of players escaping police notice has increased, and it should be noted that some arrests lead to acquittals or dropped charges. Simply put, NFL players, despite recent incidents, have a fairly strong record of acting in accordance with the law, a record that's improved recently by an impressive margin.

The point here, as it so often is: the trend being identified in relation to recent current events is not in fact a trend, but a couple of paired anomalies, and the procedures that are being recommended to curb that trend are already probably in place. Chadiha's absolutely right that drunken driving and domestic violence ought to be foci of attention for the NFL, but the NFL's own obsession with its image, along with supporting statistics, suggest they already are. The league may redouble its efforts now, but suggesting that the league has been insensible to drunken driving, domestic abuse and gun ownership among players ignores the NFL's overriding interest in good press.

Tragic Saturday: NFL Must Act [ESPN]
Does The NFL Have a Crime Problem? [Stephen Bronars]