A report published Sunday by ESPN’s Outside the Lines showed that football and men’s basketball players at Florida and Florida State avoided criminal charges or prosecution on average two-thirds of the time in incidents studied from 2009 to 2014.
OTL found that number to be “far exceeding” the number of non-athlete males in the same age range that avoided charges or prosecution. The report requested police reports involving all men’s basketball and football players on the rosters from 2009 to 2014 at 10 major programs including Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. OTL also published individual reports detailing the findings from investigations into each school.
OTL said some police departments withheld records under state disclosure laws. ESPN also sued the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University for not releasing material and both cases are pending appeals.
The report found that Florida had 80 athletes named as suspects—the most in the study—in more than 100 crimes in Florida. In those cases, the athletes either never faced charges, had charges against them dropped or were not prosecuted 56% of the time. Comparatively, 28% of a comparison set of cases involving college-age males in Gainesville, Fla., ended without charges being filed or charges eventually being dropped.
Florida State had the second-most athletes named as suspects, 66. In 70% of those cases, the athletes either did not face charges, had charges dropped or were not prosecuted. Fifty percent of the comparison set of cases involving college-age males in Tallahassee, Fla., ended without prosecutions.
Overall, the Outside the Lines investigation found that what occurs between high-profile college athletes and law enforcement is not as simple as the commonly held perception that police and prosecutors simply show preferential treatment, though that does occur. Rather, the examination of more than 2,000 documents shows that athletes from the 10 schools mainly benefited from the confluence of factors that can be reality at major sports programs: the near-immediate access to high-profile attorneys, the intimidation that is felt by witnesses who accuse athletes, and the higher bar some criminal justice officials feel needs to be met in high-profile cases.
OTL also found other factors involved athletic departments inserting themselves into investigations by trying to control how, when and where police talked with athletes; athletic departments having legal counsel at their disposal to appear at crime scenes or police departments, sometimes even before athletes requested legal counsel; and high profiles of athletes sometimes affecting if and how cases were brought to police and investigated.
- Mike Fiammetta