NFL Study on Arrests: Ethically Flawed

Arrested PlayerOne of my favorite comedians in the entire world is Chris Rock. He pokes fun at everyone, including himself. A number of years ago, in a comedy routine, he made fun of a guy who said: “I’ve never been arrested. I take care of my family.” To which Chris Rock responded (I am sanitizing this a little), “You’re not supposed to be arrested, and you are supposed to take care of your family.”

As I read a piece of research done by the University of Texas at Dallas on arrest rates of NFL players versus the general population, I could not help but scratch my ethical head.

In an article for CNN (August 26, 2015) by writer Jill Martin entitled: “Study: NFL arrest rate lower than for all males ages 20-39,” I was reminded of Chris Rock’s comedy routine. I will exactly quote the article’s highlights. The italics are mine:

  • A new study shows that the arrest rate for the general population was nearly twice as high compared to NFL players from 2000 to 2013
  • The study compared arrest rates among 1,952 NFL players to arrest rates among males between ages 20-39 in the general population from 2000 to 2013
  • NFL: “We have long recognized that arrest rates of NFL players are far below the general population”

What has worried me about this study is not the information that was presented, but the information and the statistics that were omitted.

Let me raise a number of questions and I would invite the university and the NFL to re-work their numbers and perhaps come up with a new study or two or three.

  • Question: Why did you compare the NFL players to a general population? NFL players all have jobs, their contracts contain ethics and moral’s clauses (presumably), and they are kept in check (I will come back to this) by team security and a coaching staff. Why didn’t you take this 1,952 population of players and compare it to employed men at the same salary levels?
  • Question: I looked at your graph. Year to year, I don’t see where the general arrest rate was “twice as high” as NFL players. Aren’t you playing it a little loose here? In fact, it would appear that per 100,000 population (your measurement), as we got into 2013 there was an interesting convergence of maybe 4,800 versus 3,700, general population to NFL players. Given the tremendous variations in the general population you “grabbed” I think this is  alarming rather than a source of pride.
  • Question: Where did you get your age ranges? The sample you took from the general population ranged from 20-39. You might want to look on a football field. How many active NFL players are there at age 39? How many active rookies are there at 20? Average NFL retirement age is about 30. Average playing life is 3.5 years. Your net seems too wide and full of holes.
  • Question: How come you left out domestic violence? From Ms. Martin’s fine article, it appears as though domestic violence was not included in your statistical information. Is this another example of the NFL refusing to deal with an extremely important issue? I love football; I also think that domestic violence is inexcusable. You don’t slam around women, you don’t beat the crap out of kids. Maybe society let it slide in 1955, it doesn’t slide in 2015.
  • Question: Know what I mean about “keeping things in check?” How many off-the-field incidents by NFL players have been covered up by team security or settled out of court where one of the slobs from the general population might have wound up in a jail cell? It is a question well worth asking. Start with second or third DUI offenses that never made it in front of a judge. It is in-depth research I know, but not impossible.

Anything you want it to be

Whether the NFL or a trade organization or a publicly-traded company, statistics can be packaged and presented any way we want them to be depending on who is paying for the research, who is capitalizing on the research and why the research has been done. So what was going on here?

Ethically, I believe in comparing apples to apples. That is, take your NFL players and compare them to people in the same median age range, who go off to work each day, who earn a paycheck, support families and mortgages and pay for health insurance and then give me your findings. Tell me that the rates are still twice as high.

Finally – most importantly – and as Chris Rock so well stated, a man or woman should not be in jail. There is no cause for celebration when a person does not get arrested, whether a football player, a nurse, a landscape architect or a fishmonger. A grown-up should not get arrested. When it happens, it is an ethical breakdown and it is a tragedy. What a person does for a living should never influence what he or she does “off the field.”

There are fantastic men in the NFL; I am the last person to ever want to paint with a broad brush. But get real.

Wrong is wrong. Bad choices lead to bad consequences. Re-do the study then let’s talk.



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