Top players in the National Football League (NFL) continued to have successful careers despite being arrested for violence against women, according to research.
Dr Daniel Sailofsky, a Lecturer in Criminology at Middlesex University, analysed 117 cases where NFL players were arrested between 2000 and 2019, for allegations which included domestic violence, domestic assault, domestic battery, domestic abuse/assault, battery, or sexual assault of a woman.
Arrests only had a “negligible” impact on their subsequent careers when compared with non-arrested players and the study concluded “on-field productivity and value have a much stronger and clearer impact on player careers.
“Although the impact of arrests seems to become increasingly negative over time for the full population of players, perhaps due to much less tolerance for domestic violence than there was a decade ago, a player’s performance and value on the field seem to negate any negative impact that an arrest may have.
“Recent NFL history is littered with examples of higher-performing players who have been given second or third chances following incidents of off-field violence in both college and the NFL, including Tyreek Hill, Adrian Peterson, Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, and Ben Roethlisberger, among others.”
Only 21 of the 117 NFL players were found guilty, of whom four pleaded guilty to a lesser crime and just six served time in jail. This represented a 17.9% conviction rate that Dr Sailofsky claimed was “below even the most conservative rate for domestic and sexual violence in the USA”.
Commenting on his research, Dr Sailofsky said: “When the better players are arrested for violence against women it is true that they are almost untouchable.
“I don’t think the answer is everybody should go to prison or suffer major consequences as soon as there is an allegation because this is a complicated issue.
“My problem is who suffers the consequences and who doesn’t because it is evidently not based on the facts of the case and the victims.
“There’s no link between the severity of the allegations and whether a player is released.
“What really matter is how talented they are.”
In the most high-profile case, Ray Rice, an All-Star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was banned indefinitely from the NFL after he was captured on camera knocking his partner unconscious in the elevator of the Atlantic City Hotel in February 2014. Though he eventually won an appeal and was technically reinstated by the NFL and made eligible to play, no team signed him following his arrest and conviction.
Since 2009 arrests for violence against women have had a bigger impact on career longevity but this change only “affects lower performing and valued players”.
Dr Sailofsky added: “The crucial factor in the Ray Rice case wasn’t (just) that the incident was caught on camera but more that everybody saw the shocking footage so there was considerably more backlash.
“These massive organisations who run NFL teams are beholden to profit and winning imperatives but they are also beholden to fan and consumer reaction because their profits are earned off spectators attending, watching games on TV, and sponsorship deals.
“They are still consumer products no matter how powerful they become, and responsive to consumer demand.
“There’s a lot more public awareness around violence, especially violence against women and we have seen a shift change in the NFL but it based on the risk of a backlash rather than moral reasons.”
Dr Sailofsky is now writing a book for the University of North Carolina Press which takes a broader look at violence in professional and elite sport and the connection with capitalism, focusing on violence off the field, physical injury, mental and emotional abuse, fan violence and structural and environmental harm.
This study - More Talent, More Leeway: Do Violence Against Women Arrests Really Hurt NFL Player Careers? – has been peer reviewed and published in the journal Violence Against Women Volume 29, Issue 6-7.
Find out more about studying Criminology at Middlesex University.