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NFL arrests persist after turbulent offseason
This is an unbelievably in depth piece delving into the disturbing trend of NFL player arrests. Definitely worth reading in its entirety.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY Sports 1:53 p.m. EDT September 5, 2013
Despite the NFL's many efforts to stop it, NFL players have been arrested at least 395 times since Commissioner Roger Goodell took office.
One of the ugliest offseasons in NFL history is finally over.
Since the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, NFL players have been arrested or charged with crimes at least 37 times, including 10 players accused of driving drunk and a murder indictment for ex-New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.
The list gets uglier if the second half of last season is included – three more car crashes and three more people dead in crimes allegedly committed by NFL players. On Dec. 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot himself in the head after getting drunk and killing his girlfriend. A week later, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent allegedly drove drunk and flipped his car, killing teammate Jerry Brown in the passenger seat.
ARREST DATABASE: Sortable from 2004 to present
Thursday's NFL opener between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos launches Roger Goodell's eighth season as commissioner — a period marked by almost $10 billion in annual revenues and television ratings that dominate American sports. It also features an arrest rate of more than one per week — an average that hasn't changed much from the days of Goodell's predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, according to data compiled by USA TODAY Sports. In Goodell's seven years on the job, NFL players have been arrested or charged with crimes at least 395 times, including 107 drunken-driving arrests, 43 domestic-abuse cases, 34 cases involving guns and 84 cases involving fighting or disorderly conduct, usually at bars or nightclubs late at night.
"I don't think anything has changed (with players)," said Quentin Jammer, a 12-year veteran cornerback for the Denver Broncos. "I guess guys are going to do what they're going to do regardless. "
The NFL, however, believes its efforts are working, with one big exception — drunken driving.
"The current level of deterrence associated with a DUI is insufficient," NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch told USA TODAY Sports. Instead of fines for first-time drunken drivers, Birch said the league wants mandatory suspensions under the league's substance-abuse policy.
BRENNAN COLUMN: Players need more than an app for DUIs
Goodell first cracked down on players in April 2007, seeking to reverse an alarming spike in player arrests. The move, seven months into his job, gave the commissioner broad authority to issue longer suspensions and larger fines and even punish repeat offenders who hadn't yet received due process in courts. By increasing the risk for teams that take on misbehaving players, Goodell hoped to tilt the scale toward clean characters. Teams would have to decide whether a player's talent is worth the trouble, not to mention missed games.
Goodell's toughened player-conduct policy was a reaction to 79 arrests in the 12 months since April 2006. Arrests have declined since 2007 — from a high of 66 in 2008 to a low of 47 in 2012. But another surge may be underway with 43 arrests so far this year.
To assess the impact of Goodell's crackdown, USA TODAY Sports compiled data on every arrest and criminal citation it could locate from news media reports and public records since January 2000. It included only active NFL players who belonged to team rosters at the time of arrest, except for rare cases.
USA TODAY Sports found:
-- Under Goodell, drunken driving has accounted for about 27% of arrests, despite a concerted effort by the league, teams and players union to combat the problem with education and phone numbers for players to call for free rides. USA TODAY Sports found 27 DUI arrests in 2004 and 2005 combined, in the same range as the 29 combined in 2012 and 2013.
-- Teams still take chances. The league has emphasized character issues, but troubled players continue to get signed to rosters. Many get drafted in lower rounds or sign with teams as undrafted free agents. That way, if they get in trouble — and the best predictor of who will run afoul of the law is who has done so in the past — teams have little financial investment and can cut their losses.
-- More arrests per year under Goodell — an average of 56 since he took over in September 2006 — than under Tagliabue — an average of 42 per year from 2000-06. Some qualifiers apply: Older arrests were harder to find and fewer court records from the Tagliabue era are accessible online from an era when media scrutiny was less intense. The number of annual arrests has been fairly consistent under both commissioners.
-- How the arrest rate for players stacks up depends on how it is measured. Compared with the general population, NFL players have a lower arrest rate. But some experts argue it's high when compared with people in the same income bracket as a player in the NFL, where the rookie minimum salary is $405,000.
"I think (the NFL rate) is high," said Earl Smith, a sociology professor at Wake Forest University. "Executives on Wall Street, they do other kinds of things. But for the money these players make, when you place them in the category of well-off Americans, they behave poorly."
The league often notes that its arrest rate, at 2%-3% of the player population per year, is lower than the 4% that FBI statistics show for the general population, and even higher for adult males. Likewise, the league's DUI arrest rate is close to 1% of the player population, still lower than the 1.6% arrest rate for males in the general population ages 20-24, according to FBI statistics for 2011.
The league also notes that arrested does not mean guilty. Of the criminal cases in which dispositions could be determined since 2000, USA TODAY Sports found that about one-third ended up in acquittals or dismissed cases without penalty to the player. The rest — about 67% — resulted in a conviction, plea deal or diversion program in which the player must pay a price for the alleged crime.
Goodell acknowledged that the league's efforts to educate and prevent problems, while substantial, offer no guarantees.
"You're still dealing with young men, individuals who are bound to make mistakes," Goodell said last month during the Hall of Fame weekend. "We all do in life. What they have to realize and what we try to teach them is that your mistakes are going to be magnified. And they can be life-changing. And they have to understand the risks out there. A high-profile athlete is at greater risk. You have more money. You're going to attract certain things. So we try to get them to understand that, too."