How the NFL responds to allegations of violence against women has been discussed anecdotally for years, usually focusing on the short-term punishment individual athletes did or did not receive from their teams or the league. But a recent study took a closer look at this issue, asking: Do arrests on allegations of violence against women hurt NFL players’ careers?
The answer, according to peer reviewed study published in May in the academic journal Violence Against Women, is: not really.
Such arrests have “negligible” consequences for players as a group, the study found, based on a statistical analysis of career results. While the impact of arrests became increasingly negative over the course of the 19-year period analyzed, that effect disappeared at even average or slightly below average levels of performance in the field.
“I expected top players, or even just high-performance players, to be exempt from some of these consequences of an indictment,” said Daniel Sailofsky, study author and professor of criminology at Middlesex University in London. “But all it took was not being below average. The top 75 percent of players didn’t really see, on average, of course, an impact from his accusation.”
Consequences for players are back in the news as the NFL nears a decision on the discipline Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will face as a result of more than two dozen sexual conduct allegations. inappropriate against you.
Understanding Recent NFL Controversies
A troubled association. The Dallas Cowboys faced criticism after announcing a new partnership with Black Rifle Coffee, the veteran-owned brand popular with conservatives and gun owners that sells roasts with names like “AK Espresso,” “Murdered Out” and “Silencer Smooth.” . The ad drew criticism in part for its timing, a day after a deadly mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.
Watson never faced criminal charges in connection with the allegations of assault or harassment during massage appointments, which she has denied. While the study is based only on NFL players who were charged with crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault, its findings reflect general attitudes toward violence against women on the part of the league and its member teams, who decide whether to punish players after serious accusations.
Sailofsky examined the post-arrest careers of 117 NFL players who were arrested between 2000 and 2019 for an act of violence against women, according to the USA Today Player Arrest Database, which he corroborated with news reports. The model did not consider whether the players were convicted, only whether they were arrested and charged.
Using what’s known as matched-pairs analysis, Sailofsky compared their careers to those of players at the same position who were as similar as possible on the key traits of age, race, draft status, and performance level, but who hadn’t. been arrested. (A handful of players were excluded from the analysis because they were arrested before their NFL careers had significantly begun or had unique circumstances that couldn’t be properly matched with a control player.)
The study found that a player’s value on the field, which was captured by both the percentage of games they started and the use of the approximate value metric created by Pro Football Reference, it predicts more strongly how long your career will last than if you are accused of violence against women. “Even when considering the changing impact of an arrest over time, a starter arrested in 2019 is expected to play more seasons than an arrested or unarrested backup in any year,” Sailofsky wrote.
According to the study, the findings suggest that teams may be more inclined to cut ties with an underperforming player or make him an exemplar, who is more likely to be fired anyway and comes at less cost to the team, than a star or even a player. player in the middle of the list.
Alex Piquero, a University of Miami criminologist who has studied crime in the NFL, said the study results reflect that violence against women is not taken seriously enough in society at large or in the NFL, which has a powerful platform.
“Having worked with survivors of domestic violence, many times their voices go unheard and they feel like no one is treating them seriously, much less the system,” said Piquero. “A player’s contribution should matter no more than the life and well-being of the victim.”
The time period analyzed by Sailofsky included the 2014 domestic violence case involving running back Ray Rice. The league’s mishandling of the case prompted the NFL to rewrite its personal conduct policy, increasing the base suspension for certain infractions and making it clear that a player can be disciplined even if the alleged conduct does not result in a criminal conviction. . The league also created its own investigative arm and introduced mandatory preventative education throughout the league. Rice never played again after video of him punching his fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator was made public.
The study shows that the impact of arrests on players’ careers worsened over time, but only for underperforming players, and there was no observable change in severity after the Rice incident that was different from any other change year. after year. “The impact of the arrests on career outcomes was clearly not affected by whether the arrest occurred after the Ray Rice incident,” Sailofsky wrote.
The findings suggest that the Rice incident may not have been “as historic a moment as some people say it is,” Sailofsky said. The model he used for his study was designed to take into account the other factors that affect an athlete’s career outcome, which for Rice included diminished performance at a declining position in today’s NFL.
Sailofsky completed this research as part of his Ph.D. in sociology at McGill University in Montreal. He conducted a similar study on NBA players. Those results also showed that if a player was performing even at an adequate level, an arrest didn’t seem to affect him negatively, although Sailofsky said the smaller size of the roster in the NBA gave him a smaller data set and therefore , did not allow statistical analysis as sophisticated as that of NFL players.
Sports leagues have long struggled over how to respond to accusations of violence against women. Juan Carlos Areán, director of programs for the nonprofit organization Futures Without Violence, describes sports as a “guiding force in society,” with the ability to influence cultural norms and the responsibility to shape behavior. At the same time, he said, there is no single, simple answer to what the career consequences should be for a player accused of violence against women.
“Let’s say the NFL decided that anyone who is convicted of domestic violence is fired forever,” Areán said. “That could discourage survivors from coming forward and have an effect that I don’t think we want. So we need to find a balance, which isn’t that easy, of consequences that are significant enough that people want to change if they’ve offended, or not offend if they haven’t, but not so much that no one ever calls the police. plus”.
Sailofsky used the post-arrest career length paradigm in part to test the common claim that an allegation of violence against women is enough to derail a player’s career, even if there is no conviction, argument the study concludes is “misplaced” when it comes to most gamers. The study also examined the subset of arrested players who were found guilty (21 of the 117 arrested) and found that offenses had no impact statistically significant negative in the careers of guilty or convicted players, although Sailofsky noted that this finding is limited by the relatively small sample size.
“I want to simplify the speech from one who sees the NFL as this kind of arbiter of morality to one who shows that this is a dollar-and-cents decision for teams,” Sailofsky said. “Do teams take into account the fact that a player has been stopped? Yes I think so. But it can be very easily overridden by other factors that are more important to winning and making a profit.”