Ballers & The Criminal Justice System

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Football team on the field
Football players work together on the field – are they protected from the law off the field? Image by SGarton.

Are professional athletes above the law?

Multimillion dollar salaries, flashy lifestyles, and fame and fortune all compensate for the physical demand of being a professional athlete who has to perform at his or her best during game time.

But when that celebrity status meets with criminal justice, it becomes a head-on collision course. Athletes are notorious for being obnoxious and, at times, seem to believe that they are above the law. On-season or off-season, an athlete’s name linked with criminal accusations is guaranteed to make the news.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, an estimated arrest rate across the nation in 2012 was 3,888.2 arrests per 100,000, which includes violent and non-violent crimes. 2.53%  of these arrests were from professional athletes, while they make up a considerably smaller portion of the general population.

Athletes’ Major Criminal Offenses

Handcuffs for misbehaving athletes
When the long arm of the law catches up, athletes face punishment for criminal offences. Image by xandert.

The media often reports on athletes and their bad behavior in addition to the punishment received. This punishment, if any, often seems to highlight celebratory status and the disrespect for the law at times.

Sports fans and detractors alike believe that the league protects the players with legal support because the players help to bring people to the stadium. As long as the player has the potential to make the team win, they typically continue to receive support – this carries over from college athletics. In college, the players can do no wrong and this attitude transitions into the professional league.

While most repeat offenders have trouble with DUIs and marijuana usage, resisting the police and disorderly conduct are also common ways that sports figures show disrespect for authority. Athletes such as Sheldon Robinson, Brian Dixon,  Keelan Johnson and a few others have made the news due to their offensive behavior towards law enforcement.

Tandon Doss of the Jacksonville Jaguars refused police orders when he was reportedly trailing someone’s car and, in a separate incident, Tom Johnson of the Minnesota Vikings refused to leave a restaurant after it was closed.

“Don’t you know who I am” and “I can buy you” are statements some athletes make when faced with the possibility of arrest.

The NFL crime statistics reveal the ways professional athletes create a mark in the criminal justice system. The resume of arrests includes gambling/betting, indecent exposure, DUI, rape/sexual assault, solicitation, reckless driving, illegal gun possession, murder, domestic violence, theft, fraud, drug possession steroids, bribery and various acts of violence. Domestic violence, murder and drug use are the standout crimes for these big league players.

NHL and MLB – Low-Key for Crime Rates

It’s easiest to compare these statistics if we break it down per sport. The National Hockey League (NHL) showed that 21 of their players were arrested during a 15 year span (2000 – 2015) with no known repeat offenders.

Scandals involving Major League Baseball (MLB) players mostly center around accusations or convictions for the rampant use of steroids among their superstars. Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriquez  are a few of the hitters who faced accusations, and Canseco claimed in a 2002 interview with Fox Sports Net, that “85% of the players use steroids.”

Thus far, the MLB has managed to keep their players out of the criminal justice system with only two of their players (Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry) being convicted of serious crimes thus far.

Though steroids use may be the criminal offence that stands out to the public for the MLB, Sports Blog Nation points out that there have been a number of domestic abuse cases that required police attention, yet no jail time nor punishment from the MLB commissioner resulted from those actions.

There have been repeated offenses from the year 2000 to date of MLB players getting a “slap on the wrist” for domestic violence behavior. MLB players Francisco Rodriguez, Everth Cabrera and Milton Bradley had 9 counts of domestic violence between 2011-2012, according to a USA Today report. All charges were dropped and the league doled out no punishment or  fines.

Bradley did, however, receive a three-year sentence. NBA player Jeff Taylor was given probation and a 24 game suspension on his domestic violence charge.

Are NFL Players Inherently Prone To Criminality?

The most publicized and most outrageous incident on domestic violence was on Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice. Security cameras videotaped Rice striking his then-fiancee in the face, rendering her unconscious, and dragging her by her hair from an elevator.

The police arrested Rice and charged  him with simple assault; however, the charges were dismissed a few months later. The NFL  commissioner suspended Rice for two games without pay and fined him $58,000.00.

So who is the most notorious of them all? The National Football League (NFL), which many dub the National Felony League, has led the pack on all sorts of criminal behavior.

According to USA Today Sports, there are 801 criminal records of former and present NFL players behaving badly stemming from the year 2000. During that year, the arrest rate was at 2.9% when compared with the national average of 10.8% for men aged 22-34.

It would appear that the NFL players have a higher arrest rate than the average Joe due to their notoriety, but despite the media reports, the statistics prove different.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report of 2010, 1.9% of NFL players were arrested compared to  the national arrest rate of 1 in 23 (4.2%). The Business Insider reported that 507 NFL players were arrested in 2010. The research also shows that the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings have had the most players arrested since 2000.

A player with the Minnesota Vikings has a 66% greater likelihood of getting arrested than any player from the other NFL teams. The Tennessee Titans have had the least arrests since 2000.

Interestingly enough, one of the league’s repeat offenders, Adam “Pacman” Jones, has yielded the most arrests (6) yet he remains an active player. The NFL arrest database shows that there were 52 arrests in 2014 and 29 arrests to date for 2015 with the assumption that this number will change by the time the year ends.

What Does The NBA Say?

There were a total to 178 arrests since 2000 throughout the 30 NBA franchises. The NBA Crime Library revealed that the Washington Wizards have had the most arrests with just 30 of their players while the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats have the least with only 1.

It is not known if the rules of each league yields high punishment for some, but nonchalant attitudes from the management in others for one set of professional athletes seemingly more prone to criminal behavior than the other.

Trouble On, Trouble Off

Many of the athletes have been spoiled in their unruly conduct and no respect for authority from their college days. Many times when a star athlete gets into trouble during their college days, their punishment– if any– is very light and they are soon back to playing and representing their colleges – business as usual.

That attitude is brought into the professional games with the outcome being different. Though the sporting commissioner of each league may or may not consider the criminal activity offensive, the punishment is usually very light which causes a problem when they encounter law enforcement as they expect the punishment to be the equally lenient.

The commissioners and sporting authority continue to enable the bad behavior by accepting the antics of their players without repercussions, therefore the bad boys of the professional leagues will be just that. Bad boys with money balling on the criminal justice system.

© Copyright 2015 Dianne Small-Jordan, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Sports
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