The Strategic Retreat

NFL Football Players and Arrest Rates


There seems to be an assumption that NFL players are often criminals and get arrested all the time. Every week on SportsCenter there’s a new report of a murder, rape, domestic abuse or weird self-love. But the news doesn’t match up with reality. You hear about it all the time because every time a player is arrested it’s news, but when Johnny next door gets arrested for drank you just don’t hear about it. This skews our perception of reality and paints NFL stars as criminals rather than the law abiding people they tend to be. I don’t expect you to take my word for it, so I’m bringing facts and maths to back me up. I will show that NFL players are arrested at a lesser rate than the general population and at an astoundingly lower rate than their corresponding demographic sample.

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Not every source I’m using will match up perfectly, I will be using 2013 roster demographics with 2011 FBI records and 2010 census data. So, if you’re looking for statistics and facts down to the tenth of a percent, you won’t find that here. The overall point is shown by such a significant margin that a few minor mismatches don’t really matter.

There are roughly 2,000 players in the NFL. There are 32 teams with 53 men on the roster, 8 men on the practice squad and a few guys on injured reserve(IR) and the physically unable to perform list(PUP). (53+8) x 32 is 1952 players. For the sake of round numbers we’ll say there are 1-2 guys on IR/PUP and that there are a total of 2,000. It’s a number that’s pretty close to the truth, is only 48 above the minimum possible number of players and 880 below the maximum possible. For the purposes of today a lower number will result in a higher arrest percentage for NFL players so I’m comfortable keeping it as low and as close to reality as possible.

The FBI estimated that police agencies nationwide made about 12.2 million arrests, excluding traffic violations, in 2012. That’s about 3,991 arrests per 100,000 people. In a population the size of the NFL(2,000 players) that would be 80 arrests per year.

In 2013 56 NFL players were arrested, an arrest rate 30% less than the overall population. That’s all we really need right there, 80 is a higher number than 56. Compared to the average person an NFL player is significantly less likely to be arrested. Fact. But if it were that simple I wouldn’t have spent my Sunday morning using the terrible calculator on my MacBook Air, I would have been watching the animated classic, Wizards. Although it’s a simple fact that NFL players are arrested less frequently than the average American; given their age, sex and race they are arrested at an extraordinary lower rate. That’s what I’ll be showing in the information below.

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Men are incarcerated at a rate over 10 times that of women. Arrest rates aren’t quite as skewed but men are arrested 3 times as often as women.

male female arrest statistics 2011

This means that the arrest rate for women is half of the arrest rate for the general population and the arrest rate for men is 50% higher.

Since all NFL players are men the anticipated yearly arrest rate for 2,000 people goes from 80 to 120.

NFL Race Pie Chart


We’ll keep this simple, as in black and white. Mostly black. Due to Asians and Hispanics having a small presence in the NFL I feel it’s OK to ignore them in this calculation without significantly skewing any data. The NFL is 66.7% black and 29.3% white. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the 4% of the NFL that is neither black nor white or the importance of those people outside the NFL but figuring out that extra couple of percentage wouldn’t significantly change the end results.

Whites(including Hispanics) make up 69.2% of all arrests. Blacks(including Hispanics) make up 28.4% of all arrests.

Whites represent 72.4% of the population and Blacks represent 12.6%. This means that white people are arrested at a rate roughly equal to their percentage of the population, 96% of the country’s overall arrest rate. Black people are arrested at a rate greater than their percentage of the population, being 225% as likely to be arrested than the average expectation for the overall population.

Black players are overrepresented in the NFL by 429%, this over-representation is equal to 54.12% of all the players in The NFL. Multiplying the percentage of the NFL that is made up of black players above the national average(.5412) by the percentage that black people are more likely to be arrested(1.25) by the overall arrest rate of males(.06) gives us 4.06%. This is the additional percentage of NFL players that we could expect to be arrested each year, based on the overall arrest rates of black people in the U.S., This is equal to 81 players.

Adding to our previous expectation of 120 arrests, based on sex, we come to a total of 201 expected arrests based on sex and race arrest statistics.

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Age is a huge factor when it comes to arrests. Children and the elderly tend to not live that thug life. The correlation between young men and crime can’t be overstated. Blame it on nature or nurture but the vast majority of crime is committed by young men and the vast majority of those arrested and incarcerated are young men.

arrest rates per age

Shown above are arrest percentage rates based on age. For our purposes today I’m going to use the average of 22-24(multiplied by 5) to calculate the arrest rates of 20-24 year-old NFL players. There are only a handful younger than 22 and the increased arrest rate for 20 and 21 year-olds skews the overall percentage.

2010 census age percentage

I am taking the arrest percentage of age groups, in 5 year blocks, and comparing them to their overall percentage of the population based on those same blocks in the 2010 census to determine how overrepresented each age demographic is for arrest. For example, 25-29 year olds account for 14.8% of arrests and 7.1% of the population. This shows that they are 2.08 times as likely to be arrested as the population average. This amount multiplied by the percentage of the NFL population shows us how many additional arrests we could expect to be made in a demographic with that age.

arrest percentage NFL age demographic

The sum of the modifiers is 2.246. This means that, based on age, the NFL would be expected to get arrested 2.25 times more than a population with a representative age range.

This takes our expected arrest total of 201 and turns it into 451.

Based on sex, race and age of NFL players a similar population of 2,000 people in the U.S. would be expected to have been arrested 451 times in a year. The NFL’s total last year(2013) was 56. That means that NFL Players are 8 times less likely to be arrested than non NFL players. They are arrested at 12.5% percent the rate of their demographic counterparts.

People decrying NFL players for breaking the law and being thugs couldn’t be further from the truth. A few outliers aside, the NFL is a bastion of law abiding citizens.

About Jeff Penman

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA and a penchant for sticking his nose here it doesn't belong.