So far this year through August, 125 college and professional football and basketball players have been arrested on serious charges. By that I mean felonies or misdemeanors involving violence, weapons or substance abuse. That's pretty astounding. At this rate, the number will be up around 200 by year's end.
I started looking into this about a month ago, after seeing what seemed like daily stories about athletes in trouble with the law. With the help of my research assistant,
I've been investigating and writing about athletes and crime for more than 15 years. During that time I've written four books on the subject and looked at more than 1,000 incidents involving college and professional athletes. So it takes a lot to raise my eyebrows. To some degree, I think that's true of most sports fans. We've gotten pretty accustomed to reports of athletes getting in trouble with the law. But 125 cases involving basketball and football players in an eight-month span? That's more than one every other day. Seems to me like the problem is getting worse.
Seventy of the 125 players arrested so far this year play college football. What's interesting is the way these cases are handled by the coaches.
Oregon star running back
Compare James's situation to that of Oregon State redshirt lineman Tyler
So why did Thomas get the boot for an alcohol-induced arrest while James got a slap on the wrist for pleading guilty to harassing a woman? Look no further than the Facebook page "LaMichael James for Heisman." Clearly, better athletes get better outcomes, both in the criminal justice system and on college campuses.
Some other things jumped out at me when I reviewed the 125 cases. One is the seriousness and frequency of the cases involving student-athletes. For instance, during the last week of July alone, 10 college football and basketball players were implicated in incidents that involved serious threats to public safety. Here's a sampling:
• On July 31, police in Stillwater, Okla., responded to a bar fight, where they found former Oklahoma State lineman
• On the same day in Huntington, WVa., a Papa John's pizza deliveryman was assaulted and robbed on the Marshall University campus. Marshall defensive tackle
• A few days earlier in Philadelphia, two Drexel University basketball players were charged with armed robbery.
A few cases like this a year is one thing, but 10 in one week is out of control.
It's particularly troubling to see more and more college athletes carrying guns. Twelve of the 16 weapons-related arrests I looked at involved student-athletes, such as Kansas football players
The only thing more disturbing than athletes carrying guns is athletes abusing women. It's debatable whether pro athletes are more prone than non-athletes to abuse women. But I led a national study in 1995 that examined the campus police records and internal judicial affairs records at 20 Division I institutions, most of which had top basketball or football programs. Among other things, we found that male student-athletes comprised 3.3 percent of the total male population, yet represented 19 percent of the perpetrators reported for sexual assault.
Things don't appear to have changed much since then. Women were the alleged victims in at least 22 of the 125 arrests involving basketball and football players so far this year. That's almost 20 percent. Most of these -- 14 -- involved domestic violence.
Of course what I've done here is not a scientific study. Nor do arrests equal convictions. No doubt some of the 125 cases against athletes that I have found so far this year will result in dropped charges. But let's not bury our heads in the sand here. If on average a football or basketball player is charged with a serious crime every other day, there's an undeniable problem. It starts with the type of players that some college coaches are willing to recruit. Until colleges and universities demand a higher standard, the problem will continue to get worse.
Missouri officials applied such a standard when they dismissed star running back