The popular sports phrase “leave it all on the field” does not seem to correlate for some NFL players, especially in terms of misbehavior. New research has found NFL players who draw the most penalties are the same ones who have more criminal arrests than their teammates, seeming linking bad behavior on the field to bad behavior off the field.
According to the study, players who received the highest number of penalties—those in the top 10 percent of penalties—had an average of 1.5 arrests per player, including violent and nonviolent arrests. Each player with one arrest averaged 11 penalties and 95 penalty yards. The numbers were higher for those with two or more arrests: these players averaged 16 penalties and 133 penalty yards each.
The link between on and off the field incidents did not surprise study author Alex Piquero.
“That’s something we see in other professions as well,” he said. “It doesn’t mean one causes the other, but it shows that problem behavior in one sphere is not limited to that sphere.”
Piquero, along with study collaborators Nicole Leeper Piquero, Wanda Leal and Marc Gertz, used penalty and penalty yardage information available on NFL.com, and arrest information from two separate NFL arrest databases created by The San Diego Union-Tribune and USA Today. The combined database tracked 524 players who participated in games between 2000 and 2014.
Interestingly, the study results only hold true in the regular season, with players committing (and/or being called for) very few penalties during postseason games.
Additionally, no link was found between penalties and violent arrests in the present research, which supports and expands upon two previous NFL-related studies from the authors.
A 2015 study found the overall arrest rate for the general population was nearly twice as high as the rate for NFL players from 2000 to 2013. Using the same methods employed by the FBI to determine arrest rates for the general population, the researchers calculated arrest rates for NFL players using the same databases previously mentioned.
However, the researchers found NFL players had a higher arrest rate for violent crimes than the general population during six of 14 years studied. This result held true in a follow-up study in 2016, that showed, compared to violent offending data in other studies, the percentage of violent arrests among NFL players was higher. But, the crimes were committed by a small number of players, rather than the perceived majority of NFLers.
The study examined 774 arrests among 573 NFL players. Of those arrests, 209 (27 percent) were for violent crimes. The majority of those players— 440 (77 percent)— had one arrest during the period studied. But 91 had two arrests, and 42 players had three or more arrests.
“It’s a repeat behavioral problem among a very small fraction of people, and it’s that fraction of people who get all the attention,” said Piquero, UT Dallas professor of criminology.