Take Two for July 1, 2013

Why have so many NFL players been arrested this summer?

New England Patriots Player Aaron Hernandez Arrested For Murder

Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and led out of his home in handcuffs, shortly before 9 a.m. on June 26th. He was charged with the first-degree murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd

The summer is supposed to be a restful time for NFL players who wear out their bodies on the gridiron for much of the year, but off-seasons are seldom quiet. 

In fact, since the Super Bowl in February, 31 NFL players have been arrested for a plethora of reasons.

Seattle Seahawks' back-up quarterback Josh Portis and free agent tight end Evan Rodriguez were both arrested in May for DUI. Joe Lefeged of the Indianapolis Colts was arrested Saturday and charged with carrying an unlicensed pistol. Free agent Titus Young was arrested three times in one week in May for various run-ins with police.

However, this year's most notable NFL arrest so far is that of the New England Patriots' TE Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested June 26th and charged with the alleged first-degree murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. 

But even with the numerous arrests this off-season, this year is far from unusual for the NFL. Ever since the trial of OJ Simpson in 1994, football players have been stigmatized as troublemakers. 

Mitch Abrams does not agree with this stigma. As a sports psychologist and chair of the Anger and Violence in Sport committee of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, he spends a lot of time looking at what makes professional athletes who they are.

He thinks the perceived violent nature of NFL players has been overblown.

"I think that the issue is that when athletes transgress it's big news," said Abrams, "When there's an increase in frequency in a concentrated period, it's even louder. But statistically, NFL players, and athletes in general, are not more likely to be involved in crime than non-athletes."

Abrams has a point: athletes are always in the public spotlight. They are seen everywhere from Subway commercials to fashion magazines.

But if NFL players are so high profile, shouldn't they make a greater effort to conduct themselves accordingly? Abrams says that the problem lies not with their attitude, but their conditioning.

"If you have a football player who is reenforced for a certain type of aggression on the football field, and he does the exact same thing in the parking lot 100 yards away, he'd be arrested," said Abrams, "For some athletes, it's difficult to differentiate what behavior is appropriate in what places."

So what can the league do if the aggressive nature of football itself is causing these athletes to act out?

Abrams has a couple suggestions. He thinks teams would benefit from vetting potential players before signing them.

By examining factors like a player's violet tendencies, gang affiliation and emotional state, the NFL could cut its arrest rate.

Additionally, Abrams thinks the NFL could help its players by placing more value on sports psychologists, saying that, "Sports psychologists are not a standard part of every NFL team. They are only starting to permeate being a standard part of sports medicine teams." 

With that in mind, maybe the solution to the problem is prevention, not prosecution.


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