Last week, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games over an incident in which Rice was charged with knocking his fiancee (now wife) unconscious during an altercation in a New Jersey casino. Many have criticized this suspension as too lenient, particularly compared to the usual four-game suspensionhanded down for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Whether Rice’s punishment is fair touches on a number of delicate issues, including the NFL’s history and role in punishing off-field conduct, as well as its authority and obligations under the collective bargaining agreement.
But Rice’s offense — he pleaded not guilty and instead will participate in a pretrial intervention program — is indicative of a larger pattern in arrests of NFL players; they have been particularly prone to domestic violence arrests.
Although there seems to be an endless stream of stories about NFL player arrests and misconduct, this is largely because there are a lot of NFL players (and they’re famous). At the league’s peak (during training camps), there are about 2,560 players attached to NFL teams (limit 80 each). As I’ll show, arrest rates among NFL players are quite low compared to national averages for men in their age range — but there are some types of crimes that trail the pack significantly.
This data was tricky to work with. For NFL arrests, the most comprehensive source I could find was the USA Today NFL Arrests Database, which goes back to 2000 and is updated through the present (I calculated rates based on the 2,560 players per year estimate). For national arrest trends, I used the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest Data Analysis Tool to find the arrest rates per 100,000 for the male population in the 25-to-29 age group (this group is the most similar to the NFL as a whole, where the averageteam age varies from 25 to 27 years old). The difficulty is that the two sources code offenses differently, so I had to make several grouping choices. There’s a full explanation of my methodology at the end of this piece.