In a few weeks, the BCS college football teams will be announced. A few days later, the dork in Orlando with a fax machine will release a report about the race disparities in graduation rates at those schools and their sports programs.
But the dork in Orlando with a fax machine need not wait — Here’s an early gift for him:
Black NFL players arrested nearly 10 times as often as whites
A police officer in Cincinnati watched a large black man get into his car and turn on the engine after being told it was illegally parked.
The officer thought the man was trying to avoid a parking ticket and told him to stop. So the man — Matthias Askew, at the time an NFL player — stopped his Cadillac Escalade, got out and was arrested in a scuffle with several officers. Police used a stun gun on Askew four times, alleging he resisted arrest.
A judge rejected the police account and cleared Askew of all charges.
“They tased him simply because he was a big black man, not because he did anything to make them fear for their safety,” Askew’s former attorney, Ken Lawson, told USA TODAY Sports about the 2006 incident.
For many black players in the NFL, it’s a familiar scene. Of 687 NFL player arrests since January 2000, Askew’s was one of 294 that came in a traffic stop, according to a USA TODAY Sports investigation. In a league in which 66% of the players are black and 31% are white, black players were arrested nearly 10 times as often as white players (260 to 28), accounting for 88% of those NFL traffic-stop arrests.
That percentage is consistent with the overall NFL arrest numbers: Of the 687 total player arrests in the USA TODAY Sports database that spans 14 seasons, 607 involved black players — 88%, a disproportionate rate sociologists attribute to several social factors in the black population at large, including a disproportionate rate of poverty and single-parent backgrounds. Those factors also include profiling, civil rights experts and NFL players say.
So the poverty of black NFL players (minimum NFL salary for the 2013 season: $420,000 for rookies graduated up to $940,000 for 10+ year vets) is the cause of their being arrested way more often than their white colleagues.
However, the disproportion isn’t as severe as it seems, especially from the headline. First off, of the 687 total arrests, 607 are black, and 80 are non-black, which doesn’t necessarily mean white. But that leaves a raw disparity of 7.6 times, not 10 times. But don’t forget that while 88% of arrests are black, 66% of players are black, and on the flip side, 12% of arrests are non-black while 34% of players are non-black. If my methodology is correct, (607/80)/(66/34)=3.9, meaning that a black NFL player is “only” about four times more likely to be arrested than a non-black player. Again, most of the non-blacks are white, but it also includes a few Hispanics and Polynesians. I put “only” in quotes because in the universe of black-white and black-nonblack crime disparities of this statistical nature, that’s pretty low in terms of a multiple number in disfavor of blacks. That means that just on that alone, a black NFL player is better behaved than blacks in general, or whites in the NFL are somewhat more criminal than whites in general, or a little of both.
Then there’s another factor: Arrests for what crimes? You can be arrested for murder, or you can be arrested for having a little bit of weed. It is my estimation that black NFL players who are arrested are arrested for crimes that tend not to be as serious as the kind of crimes that blacks in general are arrested for.
For comparison, in the 2011 NFL season, the average player salary was $1.9 million, while the median was $770,000. So a few very high paid players blew the curve for the average, and it’s probably still that way.
Of the arrests made only as a result of traffic stops, 260 were black, 28 were white, in a league that’s 66% black and 31% white. (This is where the “nearly 10″ in this headline comes from, examining only arrests as a result of a traffic stop and only black and white players. Still, 260/28 = 9.3, closer to 9 than 10.) This means looking at traffic stop arrests alone and only black and white players alone, (260/28)/(66/31)=4.36. That’s a disparity not much higher than all arrests of NFL players in general, (keep in mind that that 3.9 figure is blacks more likely than all non-blacks, not just whites alone), and still way less than the typical black-white crime disparity.
I tweeted Brent Schrotenboer, the author of this article, to ask him of the 80 non-black arrests, how many were white, and he tweeted back to me that number is 64.
So (607/64)/(66/31)=4.45. Still not that bad from the black perspective.
Also, even though these are risky statistics for their insignificant 3% of all players, but blacks are 1.7 times more likely to be arrested than players who are neither black nor white, (in NFL parlance, mostly Hispanic or Polynesian), while they are in turn 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested.
Blacks < Others < Whites. Where have we seen that pattern before?