The suspensions of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson underscore a troubling fact: When compared with the general population, NFL players are disproportionately arrested and charged with domestic violence -- and murder, weapons charges and sex offenses.
Capital News Service analyzed player arrest data to create this snapshot of crime in the NFL.
Approximately 7 percent of the people who played in the NFL between 2000 and 2014 were arrested, according to a CNS analysis, a lower arrest rate than the group of similarly aged men in the U.S. general population.
When compared with U.S. men aged 21-34, NFL players were disproportionately arrested and charged with domestic violence, sex offenses, murder and weapons-related crimes. Those crimes accounted for a much larger portion of total arrests in the NFL, as the graphic below shows.
8,454 different athletes played in the NFL between 2000 and 2014, according to the NFL Players Association, and 574 players (6.8 percent) were arrested during that period, according to a CNS analysis of a database of NFL arrests maintained by USA Today (Read USA Today's disclosure on limitations of the data). 131 players were arrested more than once; the total number of arrests (and a few citations) during that period was 769.
The average age of NFL players in 2013 was 27. CNS compared the NFL arrests to arrests by U.S. men aged 21-34, because there was a significant number of players in the NFL for each age in that range.
Arrest statistics maintained by the U.S. Dept. of Justice count the number of total arrests by an age group in a given year, not the number of people arrested; if someone is arrested twice, it is counted as two arrests. For that reason, it is impossible to say what percentage of U.S. men 21-34 were arrested.
To compare NFL players and the general population, CNS compared the total number of arrests with the total pool of potential arrestees. In 2012, there was one arrest for every 6 men aged 21-34 in the U.S. In the NFL between 2000 and 2014, there was one arrest for every 11 players. The average NFL athlete plays for about three years in the league.
To get a large enough sample size of arrests to compare with national figures, CNS analyzed multiple years of arrest data for the NFL.
Since 2000, every NFL team has had more than 10 arrests. But some teams had a much bigger arrest problem than others, as the graphic below shows. Minnesota Vikings players were arrested 47 times over the last 14 seasons, an average of more than 3 per year. Washington's NFL franchise and the Baltimore Ravens each averaged less than 2 per year.
In some cases, players were convicted following the arrest. In other cases, charges were dropped. CNS was unable to draw any conclusions beyond arrests; of the 769 entries in the data, 204 are listed as "resolution undetermined."
Players from some colleges are much more likely to be arrested once they enter the NFL. CNS compared the number of NFL draft picks between 2000 and 2014 for each school to the number of NFL players arrested from each school during the same period.
The average -- represented by the blue line in the graphic below -- was 1 arrest for every 7 players drafted. Schools above the line -- Maryland, West Virginia, Michigan, Florida and others -- had more arrests than average relative to the number of draft picks. Schools below the line -- Alabama, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Stanford and others -- had fewer arrests than average relative to the number of draft picks.
For undrafted players who appear in the NFL arrests database, CNS conducted web research to determine their college. The number of drafted players likely undercounts the number of players from each school who reached the league because teams sign and play undrafted free agents. The graphic only shows the most consistent NFL feeders schools, those that had one player per year drafted on average between 2000 and 2014.