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

How the NFL responds to allegations of violence against women has been discussed anecdotally over the years, usually focusing on the short-term punishments individual athletes have or haven’t received from their teams or the league. But a recent study looked at the issue more comprehensively, asking: Do arrests for assaulting women hurt the careers of NFL players?

The answer, according to a peer-reviewed study published in May in the academic journal Violence Against Women, is: not really.

The study found that, based on a statistical analysis of career outcomes, such arrests have “negligible” consequences for players as a group. Although the impact of arrests grew increasingly negative over the 19-year period analyzed, this effect disappeared even in average or below-average places.

“I would have expected that the top players, or even just the top players, would be exempt from some of the consequences of the charges,” said Daniel Sylofsky, the study’s author and a lecturer in criminology at Middlesex University in London. “But all it took was not being below average. The top 75 percent of players, on average, certainly didn’t see the impact of their charges.

The fallout for players is still in the news as the NFL nears a decision on whether to discipline Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson in the wake of more than two dozen sexual harassment claims against him.

Watson has never been charged criminally over allegations of assault or harassment during massage appointments, which she has denied. Although the study is based only on NFL players who have been accused of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault, its findings reflect a general attitude toward violence against women by the league and its member teams, which decide whether to punish players after serious allegations. .

Silofsky studied the post-arrest careers of 117 NFL players who were arrested for assaulting women between 2000 and 2019, using USA Today’s database of player arrests, which he corroborated with news reports. The model did not consider whether the players were convicted, only if they were arrested and charged.

Using matched-pairs analysis, Silofsky compared their trajectories to those of players at the same position who were as similar as possible in the key characteristics of age, race, draft status and performance level, but who were undrafted. (Several players were excluded from the analysis because they were arrested before their NFL careers began in earnest or had unique circumstances that could not be adequately matched to a control player.)

Research has shown that a player’s value on the field — measured both by the percentage of games they start and using a proxy metric created by Pro Football Reference — is a stronger predictor of how long a career will last than whether he’s accused of violence. against women. “Even when considering the changing impact of arrests over time, an arrested starter in 2019 is likely to play more seasons than an arrested or non-incarcerated backup in any given year,” Silofsky wrote.

According to the study, the findings suggest that teams may be more inclined to cut ties with or make an example of an underperforming player who is still more likely to be fired and costs less to the team than a star or even middling player.

Alex Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Miami who has studied crime in the NFL, said the findings show that violence against women is not taken seriously enough by the public or the NFL, which has a far-reaching platform.

“When working with survivors of domestic violence, oftentimes their voices are not heard and they don’t feel taken seriously by anyone, much less the system,” Piquero said. “A player’s contribution should not be more important than the life and well-being of the victim.”

The period analyzed by Sylofsky included the 2014 domestic violence case involving Ray Rice. The league’s mishandling of the case prompted the NFL to rewrite its personal conduct policy, increasing the base suspension for certain infractions and clarifying that a player can be disciplined even if the alleged conduct does not result in a criminal conviction. The league also created its own investigative team and introduced mandatory prevention education throughout the league. Rice never played again after a video of him punching his fiancee Janey Palmer in an elevator was released.

The study found that the impact of arrests on players’ careers worsened over time, but only for low-performing players, and there was no noticeable change in severity after the Rice incident, which differed from changes in other years. “The effect of arrests on career outcomes was not clearly affected by whether an arrest occurred after the Ray Rice incident,” Silofsky wrote.

The findings suggest that the Rice incident may not have been “as much of a watershed moment as some say it is,” Silofsky said. The model he used in his research was designed to account for other factors that affect the outcome of an athlete’s career, which for Rice included diminished performance at a position that is losing value in today’s NFL.

Sailofsky completed this research as part of a dissertation for his Ph.D. in Sociology from McGill University in Montreal. He conducted similar research on NBA players. Those results also showed that if a player was playing at even an adequate level, the arrest didn’t seem to negatively affect him, though Silofsky said the small roster size in the NBA gave him a smaller data set and therefore didn’t allow him to. As sophisticated statistical analysis as with NFL players.

Sports leagues have long struggled with how to respond to allegations of violence against women. Juan Carlos Arean, program director of the non-profit organization Futures Without Violence, describes sport as a “driving force in society” that can influence cultural norms and be responsible for modeling behavior. At the same time, he said, there is no simple, unequivocal answer to what the career consequences of a player accused of violence against women should be.

“Let’s say the NFL decided that anyone convicted of domestic violence would be suspended forever,” Areans said. “It could incentivize survivors to come forward and have an effect that I don’t think we want.” So we have to find a balance, which isn’t easy, of having consequences that are important enough that people want to change if they’re offended, or not be offended if they’re not, but not so much that no one calls. No more police.”

Silofsky used the post-arrest career paradigm in part to evaluate the common claim that a misdemeanor charge against women is enough to derail a player’s career even if there is no conviction, an argument that the study concludes is “misplaced” when it comes to most players. The study also looked at the subset of arrested players who were convicted — 21 of 117 arrested — and found that the crime had no statistically significant negative impact on the careers of convicted or convicted players, though Silofsky noted that this finding is limited by the relatively small sample size.

“I want to simplify the discourse away from the discourse that sees the NFL as this kind of arbiter of morality and claims that it’s a dollars and cents decision for the teams,” Silofsky said. “Do the teams mean the fact of the player’s arrest?” Yes, I think they do. But it can very easily be overridden by other factors that are more important to winning and winning.”

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