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NFL Players: 21% Criminals?

A new book claims 21 percent of NFL players have committed serious crimes and the league takes little note of the questionable backgrounds of its players.

In Pros and Cons: The criminals who play in the NFL, Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger used public access records to examine the nearly 1,600 players on NFL rosters in 1996-97 and did extensive research on a sample of 509 players whose backgrounds they were able to check. Of that group, 109 -- or 21 percent -- had criminal histories with 264 arrests for everything from homicide (two) to domestic violence (45).

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    Forum: Do you believe the report?

  • Asked if it was fair to expand the statistics from the sample they examined, Benedict defended the study. "It's absolutely fair," he said.

    "For a reliable sample, you generally look for 10 percent. Opinion polls sample less than 1 percent. We sampled over 30 percent. If we had access to the records of the others, we're confident it would be higher."

    "We didn't look at juvenile records, which is the most active crime age. If anything, we were conservative here."

    That position was echoed by professor Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University, an expert on criminal statistics, who called the sample "reasonably representative of players in the NFL."

    The league doesn't think so.

    NFL spokesman Greg Aiello called the book an unfair attempt to stereotype and stigmatize athletes.

    "There are approximately 2,500 players going through our league each year, and fortunately the overwhelming majority are good citizens, in part because we have taken a very aggressive approach to addressing issues of life skills and off-field conduct," he said.

    Doug Allen, assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the authors had done "shoddy research designed to reach a predetermined conclusion."

    "It's absolute nonsense to say one in five NFL players i a criminal," he said. "They've lumped together DUI and disorderly conduct charges that were dismissed with murder charges."

    "They should take notice of the fact that we have the most comprehensive anti-violence, anti-gun policy in sports. We're doing everything an employer and union can do to be responsible. This is not a book that has discussed it fairly."

    Benedict dismissed Allen's remarks.

    "If that's the best response they can make, they're in tough shape," he said. "They can't point to a single case of a player kicked out of the league for a violent crime. Those policies aren't worth the paper they're printed on until you use them."

    Benedict cited the case of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Cornelius Bennett, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman who accompanied him to a hotel room in 1997 and served 36 days in jail.

    "He was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor," the writer said. "The charges were dropped because he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge as part of a plea bargain. That doesn't mean he didn't do those things."

    Benedict said the league is far more tolerant of violent crimes than it is of other transgressions such as gambling or steroids. "That's because gambling and steroids get at the credibility of the game," he said.

    He also said the league is not entirely forthright in admitting that a criminal element exists on team rosters.

    "Out of the chute, the NFL acknowledges a few bad apples," Benedict said. "It's not a few. When one in five has a record reflecting these kind of crimes, it's a staggering number. I don't think we uncovered anything the NFL doesn't know. It's an ominous picture."

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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