NFL players pay a small price when accused of violence against women

How the NFL handles allegations of violence against women has been anecdotally discussed for years, usually focusing on the short-term penalties that individual athletes have or have not received from their teams or the league. But a recent study looked at the issue more comprehensively, asking the question: Do arrests on allegations of violence against women harm the careers of NFL players?

Answer according to peer-reviewed study published in May in the academic journal Violence Against Women is this: not quite right.

Such arrests have “minor” consequences for players as a group, according to a study based on a statistical analysis of career outcomes. While the impact of arrests became increasingly negative over the analyzed 19-year period, this effect disappeared even with average or slightly below average performance in the field.

“I expected top players, or even just high performers, to be exempt from some of these prosecution consequences,” said Daniel Sylofsky, author of the study and lecturer in criminology at Middlesex University in London. “But all it took was to be above average. The top 75 percent of the players did not really see, on average, of course, the blow from their accusation.

The implications for players are back in the news as the NFL moves closer to a decision on the discipline Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshawn Watson will face in more than two dozen sexual harassment lawsuits against him.

Watson has never faced criminal charges in relation to allegations of assault or harassment during massage sessions, which he denied. While the study is based only on NFL players who have been charged with crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault, its findings reflect general attitudes towards violence against women by the league and its member teams, who decide whether to punish players after serious allegations.

Sylofsky looked into the career after the arrest of 117 NFL players arrested from 2000 to 2019 for acts of violence against women, based on the USA Today player arrest database, which he confirmed with news reports. The model did not take into account whether the players were convicted, only whether they were arrested and charged.

Using what is known as matched pairing analysis, Sylofsky compared their trajectories to those of players in the same position who were as similar as possible in key age, race, draft status, and performance levels but who were not arrested. (Several players were excluded from the analysis because they were arrested before their NFL career had a meaningful start, or because they had unique circumstances that could not be adequately matched to a control player.)

The study found that a player’s value on the field, as measured by both the percentage of games he started and the use of approximate value metric created by Pro Football Reference – more accurately predicts how long his career will be than whether he is accused of violence against women. “Even taking into account the changing impact of an arrest over time, an arrested starter in 2019 is expected to play more seasons than an arrested or unarrested reserve player in any other year,” Sylofsky wrote.

According to the study, the results show that teams may be more likely to end relationships or set up an example of a lesser performing player who is more likely to be fired anyway and at a lower cost to the team than a star or even a star. mid-level player.

Alex Piquero, a University of Miami criminologist who has studied crime in the NFL, said the study’s findings reflect a lack of seriousness about violence against women both in society at large and in the NFL, which has a far-reaching platform.

“When working with victims of domestic violence, often their voices are not heard and they don’t feel like anyone takes them seriously, much less the system,” Piquero said. “The player’s contribution should not be more important than the life and well-being of the victim.”

The time period Sylofsky analyzed included a 2014 domestic violence case involving running back Ray Rice. league abuse The case prompted the NFL to rewrite its personal conduct policy, increasing the base level of ineligibility for certain infractions and stating that a player may be subject to disciplinary action even if the alleged conduct does not result in a criminal conviction. The league also created its own investigation unit and introduced mandatory preventive education throughout the league. Rice never played again after a video of him punching his fiancé Janai Palmer in an elevator was made public.

The study shows that the impact of arrests on players’ careers worsened over time, but only for lower-scoring players, and there was no noticeable change in severity after the Rice incident that differed from any other change from year to year. “The impact of arrests on career outcomes was not clearly related to whether the arrest occurred after the Ray Rice incident,” Sylofsky wrote.

The findings suggest that the Rice incident may not have been “as iconic as some people say,” Sylofsky said. The model he used for his study was designed to take into account other factors that influence an athlete’s career outcomes, which for Rice included declining performance in a position that is losing value in today’s NFL.

Sylofsky completed this research as part of his doctoral dissertation. in sociology at McGill University in Montreal. He did a similar study on NBA players. These results also showed that if a player performed even at an adequate level, the arrest did not appear to have had a negative effect on him, although Sylofsky said that the smaller size of the NBA roster provided him with a smaller data set and thus prevented such the same complex statistical analysis as that of NFL players.

Sports leagues have long been scratching their heads over how to respond to allegations of violence against women. Juan Carlos Aran, program director of the non-profit organization A Future Without Violence, describes sport as a “guiding force in society” that can influence cultural norms and must model behavior. At the same time, he said, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to what the career consequences of a player accused of violence against women should be.

“Let’s say the NFL decided that anyone found guilty of domestic violence would be fired forever,” Aran said. “It could prevent survivors from speaking out and having an effect that I don’t think we want. So you need to find a balance, which is not so easy, consequences significant enough for people to want to change if they offended, or not to offend if they did not, but not so much that no one will call the police anymore.

Sylofsky used the post-arrest career length paradigm in part to evaluate the common claim that allegations of violence against women are enough to derail a player’s career, even if there is no conviction. inappropriate” when it comes to most players. The study also examined a subset of arrested players who were found guilty – 21 of 117 arrested – and found that offenses did not have a statistically significant negative impact on the careers of guilty or convicted players, although Sailofsky noted that this finding is limited by a relatively small sample size.

“I want to simplify the discourse from one that sees the NFL as a kind of arbiter of morality to one that demonstrates that this is a decision for teams in dollars and cents,” Sylofsky said. “Do the teams take into account the fact that the player has been arrested? Yes, I think they do. But it is very easy to cover it with other factors that are more important for winning and making a profit.”