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Domestic violence: NFL less violent than real life

Written By | Sep 14, 2014

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2014 — The National Organization for Women (NOW) called for the resignation of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week. They said that the NFL “has a violence against women problem.”

NOW President Terry O’Neill said in a statement that “the NFL has lost its way. It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem, it has a violence against women problem.”

Does it?

The data say no, it does not. More than that, the data say that NFL players are half as likely to commit domestic violence as men in their 20s in the general population.

A 15-year-old academic study by Alfred Blumstein and Jeff Benedict was one of the first to look at this issue. In a paper titled “Criminal Violence of NFL Players Compared to the General Population,” they compared arrest data for NFL players and other men for a variety of crimes, including assault (non-domestic), domestic violence, rape, kidnapping, homicide, DUI, drugs, and property offenses.

Blumstein and Benedict found that of the 342 black players in their sample, 97 of them, or 28 percent, had an arrest for one of these crimes. There were 77 whites in the sample; seven of them, or 9 percent, had an arrest

Those numbers appear high until we compare them with arrest numbers for the general population. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports provided the arrest data. For the general population, the arrest rate for assault for black men was 6,990 per 100,00, and for whites, 2,209.

The corresponding rate for NFL players, black and white, was less than half the rate for the general population.

More recently, USA Today published its USA Today NFL Arrests Database, which goes from 2000, just after the Blumstein-Benedict study, to today. Benjamin Morris at FiveThirtyEight’s DataLab used these data with the Bureau of Crime Statistics’ Arrest Data Analysis Tool to compare arrest rates for NFL players and the general population.

Morris looked only at the 25-30 age group, which most closely reflects the age of NFL players. What he found was that, again, NFL players have arrest rates far below the general population. Their arrest rates for domestic violence are half the rate of the general public, just as Blumstein and Benedict found. In addition, Morris found that NFL arrest rates for DUI were about one-fourth the general rate; for non-domestic assault, about one-sixth; for sex offenses, about one-half; and for non-violent gun-related offenses, about one-half.

Overall, arrest rates in the NFL are only 13 percent those for the general public among men aged 25 to 30.

There are a variety of reasons for this, the most obvious being that the average income of NFL players is high, with higher arrest rates strongly correlated with lower income. It isn’t possible with the existing data to sort domestic violence arrests by income level, but the fact remains: Terry O’Neill and others who claim the NFL has an unusual problem of violence against women are very wrong.

An alternative reading would be that they’re correct, but that teachers, plumbers, firefighters, construction workers and college professors combined have an even bigger problem of violence against women.

Another conclusion comes from the fact that about 40 percent of reported domestic violence victims are men. Researchers note that heterosexual males are much less likely to report abuse by a spouse or cohabiter to the police. Feminists reject the notion of “gender symmetry” in domestic violence, but studies have found that in domestic violence cases, men strike the first blow 27 percent of the time, women 24 percent, and the violence is a mutual brawl the remainder of the time.

If we accept these data, we are forced to conclude that women are more violent in domestic relationships than NFL players.

The video recording of Ryan Rice striking his fiancée is disturbing, and a matter for police investigation (Rice was required to receive anger-management training). But the hysteria over NFL violence is just that.

What we’re facing is not an epidemic of man-against-woman violence in the NFL, but of ideologically driven NFL bashing.

The current furor over NFL violence is reminiscent of another episode: In 1993, at a Pasadena news conference before that year’s Super Bowl game, reporters were told by women’s groups that Super Sunday was the biggest day of the year for domestic violence.

They reported that the violence rate increased by 40 percent on Super Sunday.

That “fact” was widely reported and repeated for years. It prompted public service ads to encourage men to stay calm during the game, and women to call for help before things got bad. It was obviously true; it matched what feminists believe about men and what people believe about the louts who watch football.

It was a misandrist slur. Domestic violence rates don’t rise during the Super Bowl.

As a side note, we might wonder whether, like Rice, all domestic abusers, male and female, should not only be punished by the law, but by their employers and forced into unemployment. The NFL is concerned with protecting its image and has every right to fire Rice to do it, and even Goodell.

However, calls from outside the NFL to require that the NFL fire abusers would seem peculiar if aimed at journalists and professors.

Employers can fire you for any reason they please, as long as it isn’t your gender, your race, your age, or your membership in any other protected class. They can certainly fire you for domestic abuse. But just how badly and how long do we think we should punish abusers, drug users, flashers and public urinators? The growing consensus seems to be, “as much as we can, and forever.”

This further points to the likelihood that what we are observing is witch-hunting hysteria, not reasoned, data-driven policy.

Ray Rice is clearly the sort of man I wouldn’t want dating my daughter, but he should thank his lucky stars that we no longer hang or burn witches.


Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.