Sunday, January 06, 2008

Are NFL players more criminally-inclined than the general public?

There's a lot of talk about how many NFL players seem to get in trouble with the law. Do professional football players really get arrested more than the general population?

A 1999 study from Chance magazine (
.pdf) ran the numbers to find out. The authors, Alfred Blumstein and Jeff Benedict, broke down crime statistics by sex, age, and race, and compared NFL players to the rest of their demographic cohort.

There were 264 arrests overall. Of those, 87 arrests were for assault. There were 7 for rape, 4 for kidnapping, 2 for homicide, 31 for property crimes, 35 for DUI, 15 for drugs, 16 for resisting arrest, and 40 for other "public safety offenses." Apparently the 31 arrests for property crimes is a very low number, probably because pro football players are pretty rich.

After some discussion, the authors limited their investigation to assault (which includes domestic violence). The results surprised me.

It turns out that for assault, the arrest rate for players is only about half what it is for the general population. For blacks, it was 46% of the norm; for whites, 47%.

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At Monday, January 07, 2008 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Don Coffin said...

I would guess that this is a case in which controlling for income would be useful for assaults as well as for property crimes. In general, crime rates drop as income rises.

At Monday, January 07, 2008 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Agreed. The authors write,

"There are those who would suggest that the compairson should be with individuals of a similar age earning comparable income ... First, arrest data on these other comparison groups is not available. But those people would tend to be coporate executives or professionals ... and much more likely to be exemplars of traditional anti-violence middle-class norms. Thus, even if the data were available for such a group, comparison with them seems less than appropriate."

And that's a reasonable point too.

At Tuesday, January 08, 2008 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Don Coffin said...

So they're suggesting that socioeconomic background trumps income. That's an assumption, not a fact, and it'd be useful to see whether it's true.

At Tuesday, January 08, 2008 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...



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