In an independent survey conducted by 'The Beam' in Pittsburgh, 450 NFL fans showed their distaste towards the recent spate of criminal activities current and past NFL players have been involved in and/or arrested for. In one survey, fans were asked about the use of guns and firearms infractions (200 respondents); in another general crimes (250 respondents). According to a database compiled by U-T San Diego, 31 NFL players have been arrested since the Super Bowl in February 2013. During the 2012 off-season, according to an article on the If It Ain't Steel website, 31 players and a cheerleader were involved in criminal activity in nearly the same time period; with Time reporting that player infractions are rising 75 percent year after year in the NFL.
The Aaron Hernandez (New England Patriots) first degree murder charges were probably the most headline-grabbing, and perhaps one of the most surprising this year. He isn't alone, however. Former Cleveland Browns rookie Ausar Walcott allegedly punched a man outside of a New Jersey club and was arrested for attempted murder. Joe Lefeged (Indianapolis Colts) was arrested for fleeing police following a traffic stop and charged with illegal possession of a semi-automatic pistol, but is now out on his own recognizance despite prosecutor Ben Schrader's opinion that “indicia of drug use, flight from police [and] recovery of an open container” should have been enough to keep Lefeged in jail. Josh Brent (Dallas Cowboys) failed a drug test recently and has returned to jail, related to his intoxicated manslaughter charge in December 2012 and is scheduled to appear in court July 19 to ask for a bond revocation. Brent was responsible for teammate Jerry Brown's death. He will officially stand trial in September.
According to a recent Time article, the NFL averaged 17.7 player arrests during the off-season from 2000-2006. In 2007, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell instituted new policies regarding player conduct. Between 2008 and 2013, the NFL has averaged 28.5 arrests per off-season; a 61 percent increase.
Results of the independent surveys conducted by 'The Beam' in Pittsburgh
In the first survey, respondents were asked ten questions related to Hernandez, Lefeged and gun crimes committed by NFL players that have resulted in arrests. 200 respondents participated. When asked if they (fans) believed violence was on the rise among NFL players, 75 percent answered 'yes'. 100 percent of respondents said that they had heard about the news regarding Hernandez on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and 66.7 percent said they heard the story on television as well. When asked, "Do you feel the NFL should take a stronger stand against players who carry guns illegally or use them in crimes?", 100 percent of respondents said 'yes'. As fans of the NFL, 68 percent admitted that they found that players who use guns/weapons in crimes a "disturbing trend." 100 percent of respondents said they do not feel that NFL players who are involved in gun crimes should get special treatment because they are 'stars' or celebrities.
In the second survey, respondents were asked ten questions related to their opinion on what should be done to fix the current situation, how they would respond if they were a team owner or coach, who is responsible for the rise and what they think Goodell should do about the crime trends in light of his 2007 policies appearing not to have made an impact on bad behavior by NFL players. Out of 250 respondents, 98 percent agreed that there is a fundamental breakdown in the 'stay out of trouble' policies in the NFL. Over 62 percent of respondents said that if they were a team owner and one of their players got into trouble, they would fire them or place them on waivers immediately. When asked about responsibility of the increasing trend, 74 percent blamed the mentality of the players themselves, with 52 percent of those respondents adding that they feel players believe they are "impervious to the law(s)" due to their perceived social status. Nearly 90 percent of respondents believe that Goodell's policies are not working. 85 percent of respondents agreed that the NFL needs to come up with a stricter policy regarding criminal activities both on and off the field.
If the Time article and labor economist Stephen Bronars are correct, comparing NFL players to other professionals earning a minimum hundreds of thousands of dollars, something is very wrong. "The arrest rates do seem high [in the NFL] to highly-paid workers in most companies," said Bronars. The fact that NFL players are generally younger that high earners in corporations who have worked up to their earnings, Bronars pointed out, show that younger men are more likely to be arrested.
Regardless of age, Goodell's policy seems to be falling on deaf ears. Charges of public intoxication, assault, drug possession, illegal gun possession and drunken driving have all occurred. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today Sports that, "[The NFL has] policies and programs that hold all NFL employees accountable and provide them with programs of education and support." Aiello also admitted that even a single arrest is "too many". Many fans feel that his statement shows a pattern of naivety. Aiello also said, "The thing that is generally a constant is there is a certain percentage of men that are going to behave badly. It's endemic to the social fabric of our culture...the spotlight is such that every move off the [NFL] field is intensely looked at." While this may be the case, many fans disagree with Aiello's reasoning.
One of the questions in the second survey conducted by 'The Beam' in Pittsburgh addressed this very statement. 80 percent of respondents said that they felt that Aiello's statement was "an excuse" to not enforce tougher rules on players who break the law. One mother of two, who opted to give an additional comment, wrote, "Goodell and the NFL have consistently shown a lack of consistency towards players who behave badly and commit crimes. When my sons watch the NFL on television, I don't want them to see players during the season or off-season that set terrible examples for how my kids should behave." She went on to say, "Aiello's statement makes me believe that he feels that it is ok, or even accepted, that young men should behave badly because it is a fact of life. Not in my home. If that is the atmosphere in the NFL, one of acceptance and a lack of discipline and punishment, then I would prefer my sons watch something other than football."
- Subscribe to get instant updates on the Pittsburgh Steelers from Christina Rivers.
- Are you on Facebook? Follow Christina Rivers or on Twitter @3Rivers_Writer
- Read Christina's articles on CBS Sports/Local - Pittsburgh (KDKA) and at 'The Beam' in Pittsburgh and SteelBlitz.com (Steelers blog)
- View the slideshow to see which NFL players have been in trouble this off-season and to see charts from 'The Beam' in Pittsburgh's surveys.