on February 28, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

‘Pro Athletes Gone Wild?’ Not exactly

(AP) – If you read nothing but the sports pages, it’s easy to believe there’s a crime spree in progress.

Nine players from one NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals, arrested since the start of the 2005 season.

One player, the Broncos’ Darrent Williams, killed in a drive-by shooting on New Year’s Eve leaving a nightclub in downtown Denver. Another, Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, questioned about a triple shooting _ as a witness, his attorney insisted, not a suspect _ at a Las Vegas strip club during the NBA’s All-Star weekend. And yet another, the Falcons Jonathan Babineaux, charged with felony animal cruelty in the death of his girlfriend’s dog.

Not to be outdone, NBA players union chief Billy Hunter surveyed the wreckage left behind by the league’s All-Star weekend _ 400-plus arrests, though the lion’s share were for prostitution _ and wondered aloud the other night whether New Orleans had the stomach and enough cops to play host to the same show next year. Las Vegas, after all, reportedly beefed up the number of officers who work overtime for special events from 150 to 1,000 to deal with the crush of posses and wannabes attracted by the NBA circus, and barely managed to hold its own.

“I’m wondering, how will New Orleans accommodate all these people if they elect to come to New Orleans?” Hunter told Newsday. “They’ll shut the city down.”

Everybody, take a deep breath.


There’s no need to hide the women and children next time a pro team comes to town. If it’s any comfort, you’re still three times more likely to get mugged, offered drugs or solicited by somebody living within a few miles of home than anybody who plays in the NFL or NBA.

Not to be glib about it, but that’s the way Richard Lapchick views the reported crime spree, and he knows a thing or two about athletes. As director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at University of Central Florida, he’s been crunching numbers regarding professional and college players since the mid-1990s.

“What we’ve seen since then is about 100 athletes a year, on average, arrested for violence against a woman and 75 for some form of recreational drugs. So roughly three times a week, you pick up a paper or watch TV, see something like that, and it creates an impression in people’s minds that there’s a pattern.

“It’s just not true,” Lapchick said.

He concedes exact comparisons are hard to come by, because the institute tracks only a handful of crimes by athletes. But Lapchick is confident the ratio of 3-to-1, based largely on the number of athletes arrested on domestic violence and drug charges versus those in the general population, is a reliable rule of thumb. The amount of publicity generated by the athletes’ arrests, conversely, is 10-to-1 or 100-to-1.

“I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of any crimes, but the way I’d frame it is this: There are some athletes who definitely have a problem; but athletes are not THE problem.”

You wouldn’t know that, though, from all the public hand-wringing of late.

Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, players association chief Gene Upshaw, two owners, two league officials, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and 10 players met at the scouting combine in Indianapolis and discussed a “three strikes and you’re out” policy that would ban players for life after a third conviction.

“The percentage of players involved in this is very, very low,” Upshaw said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. “But there’s a perception out there and the problems are real.”

The encouraging thing is that it’s the players who talked about putting teeth in the league’s personal-conduct policy instead of the higher-ups. The truth is Goodell has talked long and loud about disciplinary problems, but the fines and suspensions meted out by the clubs and the league have varied from case to case.

Some clubs have tried to protect themselves by not handing out big signing bonuses to draft choices who arrive trailing a rap sheet from their college days; the Titans probably wish they’d thought of that with Pacman Jones. But even Upshaw conceded every team treats its stars different from the backups.

The Bears’ Tank Johnson, for example, was arrested late last season on gun-possession charges, his third arrest in 18 months. Then two days later, Johnson went to a nightclub, where his bodyguard was shot and killed. His punishment: a one-game suspension.

So standardizing the crime-and-punishment policy would be a good first step, especially since the players would have input. But it’s important for the leagues to do that in a deliberate way, with a realistic grasp of the problem, instead of simply slapping something together to get the critics off their backs.

NBA commissioner David Stern is resisting the temptation to do just that. A day after Hunter threatened to sue the league if he felt his players’ safety would be jeopardized in New Orleans, Stern made sure the league and the players union reiterated their commitment to the city. He knows the dollars that All-Star weekend pours into a beleaguered town will help fight way more crime than his players, behaving at their worst, could possibly cause.

“The reports we have received about other major events and conventions recently held in New Orleans have been very positive,” the commissioner said in a statement, “and we fully expect All-Star 2008 to be a great success.”