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Saturday, September 20, 2014
Some Perspective, Please

The current NFL crisis is entirely of Goodell’s own making. A professional football player is caught on videotape punching his fiancé. The league’s commissioner hands out a woefully inappropriate two game suspension. He now admits he was wrong and advises the league will revamp its Personal Conduct Policy and have every player undergo “abuse awareness training.”

The media and public response? In national publications and across social media, NFL players are characterized as “common street thugs.” When I read that word “thug” again and again, I hear Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman correctly telling us “Thug is the new N-word.” In America, it does not take long for racism to rear its ugly head, particularly when it comes to attitudes toward professional athletes.

Let’s have some perspective, always a difficult task in the world of sports. There are 1696 players in the NFL and another 250 or so on practice squads. In Goodell’s 8 years as commissioner, there have been 57 cases of domestic abuse or 7 cases a year. That comes to about .5%, which is less than half the rate across the country. No doubt these numbers are low because many cases are unreported, but there is no reason to believe the percentage of unreported cases is greater in the NFL than across the general population. The highest rate of such offenses is in Nevada followed by most of the southern states. Those in law enforcement have a rate double the national average. Indeed, Alabama Federal District Judge Mark Fuller plead guilty two weeks ago to violently beating his wife in a deal that will have his record expunged once he undergoes counseling. The rate of domestic violence by players in the NFL is thus considerably less than for those who work in other occupations.

This is not to suggest domestic violence is a minor offense. Ray Rice committed a despicable act and the Commissioner should have handed down a punishment worthy of the offense. But let’s be wary of those who are quick to paint all NFL players or professional athletes generally with the same brush, particularly when they are working with an all too familiar palette.


Thug likely does have (some) (subconscious) racial component, and perspective is rare with social media and journalistic "hot takes".

However, most of the criticism I have read is of Goodell and the NFL's handling of the situations than Rice or Peterson being "thugs."

Furthermore, painting with a broad brush happens with many "scandals": politicians are crooks, mechanics are ripoffs, priests are pedophiles, etc. Race likely plays a role in the characterization of athletes in general, but some perspective is also needed for those who claim NFL players are unique to being painted with a broad brush.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/20/2014 12:32 PM  

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