Two weeks into the 2014 NFL season, the league is more popular than ever, but the on-field product has taken a back seat to recent controversies involving some of the best players in professional football. Domestic violence charges brought up against Ray Rice and other NFL players have become national news stories.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized for not doling out appropriate punishments, and the league has been accused of not caring about women, as a seemingly inordinate number of players have been arrested for domestic violence.
Does the NFL have a disproportionate problem with domestic violence? While the media attention around recent incidents may give that impression, the league hasn’t experienced an excessive amount of domestic violence arrests.
“There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that athletes are any more prone to domestic violence than any other group of people in American society,” Evan Stark, forensic social worker and Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University, told International Business Times. “I think it’s a myth because there’s so much focus on the athletes. There’s so much publicity.”
Stark, who has a Ph.D. in sociology and works on criminal cases involving domestic violence, says the level of abuse in the NFL and other professional sports is no higher than that of similar age groups in the general population. Statistics from the USA Today NFL Arrests Database support his claim.
Six NFL players have been arrested on charges of domestic violence since the start of the 2013 season, including Peterson’s recent arrest for child abuse. Dating back to 2000, the NFL’s domestic violence arrest rate is significantly lower than that of the national average.
Based on the approximate 2,560 players that are on NFL teams in training camp and the regular season, Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight reports that the league’s arrest rate for domestic violence is just 55.4 percent of the national average. Of the 1,696 players that are currently on NFL rosters, 0.7 percent have been arrested for domestic violence in the last nine years, per NBC News.
Across the board, NFL players are arrested far less frequently than the general public, with the league’s arrest rate coming in at just 13 percent of the national average for men between the ages of 25 and 29. When looking at specific crimes, though, domestic violence rates are closer to the national average than anything else.
After domestic violence, nonviolent gun-related and sex-offense crimes are closest to the national average. NFL players are arrested for those crimes at a rate of 45.2 percent and 38.2 percent of the national average, respectively, compared to 55.4 percent of the national domestic violence arrest rate.
Some believe that the violent nature of football might contribute to domestic violence in the NFL. Former Pro Bowl linebacker and current CBS Sports analyst Bart Scott indicated on Sunday’s “The NFL Today” that playing football might have contributed to his anger problems.
"This off-season — I have been retired two years — I went and sought out mental health specialists so I could learn how to handle my rage issues and things like that," Scott said. "What happens is we tell everybody how to turn it on, but nobody teaches us how to turn it off."
The recent scandals in the NFL have left fans and media members searching for answers. Rice had a very good reputation in Baltimore and around the league, before he was arrested earlier this year. But many might find that hard to believe after seeing the video of the former Super Bowl winner punching his wife (then-fiancée) in a hotel elevator.
Rice has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, while Adrian Peterson has been deactivated by the Minnesota Vikings for an indefinite period of time. Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, who is currently appealing his conviction of assaulting a woman, was deactivated in Week 2 and could be facing an imminent suspension from the league.