As soon as I learned that USA Today had released on open database of NFL player arrests (2000 to present), the data scientist in me thought, “I imagine there are some interesting patterns in there.” Rather than wondering, I downloaded it and dived right in.
The arrest data is easily readable, but lacks some important items (such as the age of the player at the time of arrest). As such, I decided to mash-up the data with two other sources: DOB, Height and Weight data from NFL.com and the strength and speed data from the NFL Combine. This would let me explore some of the more interesting (and potentially controversial) claims I heard in many TV interviews about the effect of increases in player size and strength had on aggression and crime.
Here are my findings from analyzing the data:
- Arrest frequency is NOT increasing. It is actually down from a really bad spate from 2006-2008
- NFL players, in general, have a one-third less likelihood of being arrested than everyday US residents. They have 15x the median US income and 3x the college graduation rate.
- However, many of those who are arrested are arrested many times throughout their career. 124 people were arrested more than once. One player was arrested 9 times. Sixty-five arrests were for multiple counts, across multiple criminal charges.
- Guilty verdicts (conviction, plea, or plea agreement) are the most common legal outcome. They occur almost 7x more frequently than Acquittals
- Nevertheless the most common action taken by NFL teams in response to arrests is “No Response.” This occurs 84% of the time
- Two-thirds of arrests occur off-season. However over 99% are arrest of players under contract. Free agent arrests are rare (although all of them later signed onto teams)
- Three teams (Minnesota, Cincinnati and Denver) have seen double the “normal” number of arrests per team
- Four criminal charges (DUI, Drugs, Domestic Violence and Assault) represent 60% of all arrests.
- Six charges (DUI, Drugs, Domestic Violence, Assault, Gun Charges and Disorderly Conduct) represent 80% of all arrests. Each of these has a single team with more arrests than any other.
- Of the most frequent charges, conviction rate varied enormously. DUIs had the highest conviction rate; Domestic Violence the lowest. While Domestic Violence pleas + convictions outcomes outnumbered acquittals 10:1, the vast majority of these cases were dropped or resolved in Diversion Programs
- The median arrested NFL player is: 25 years, 6 months old; is 6’6” tall, weighs 230 lbs., can run the 40-yd dash in 4.61 seconds and can bench press 225 lbs. 21times.
- However, age was not a factor in arrest or criminal charge
- Nor were height and weight—contrary to some public opinion
- Nor was speed
- However, while strength was not a statistical factor, an analysis of strength by criminal charge shows a scary pattern: those accused of Sexual Assault scored the lowest in the NFL Combine Bench Press strength test.
The rest of this post outlines the details of these findings, along with a range of charts and interactive visualizations highlighting data patterns and trends.
- 730 arrests between 2000 and the present (the database actually expanded by one entry a few days after launch to account for the arrest of Jonathan Dwyer)
- These 730 arrests spanned 544 players (more on that below). Of these 544 players, 330 had publicly-available NFL Combine results
- The arrests spanned 51 separate criminal charges (with some interesting concentrations, see below)
Here is what I found. (See the bottom of this post for notes on methodology and data sources.)