From Michael Vick who ruined his career and lost a $130 million contract after pleading guilty to federal dog fighting conspiracy charges, to Plaxico Burress who accidentally shot himself in the leg while carrying an illegally concealed gun into a New York nightclub, to Adam “Pacman” Jones who has been arrested 10 times since his 2005 draft day and was recently “released” by the Dallas Cowboys, crimes committed by athletes appear to be on the rise. While sports apologists claim that it only seems like athletes commit more crimes because they are widely reported due to the athlete’s fame, an ESPN Sports Zone poll, reported that 83% of the public believes that college and pro athletes are committing more criminal acts now compared to 25 years ago.
So exactly how prevalent is the incidence of crimes among athletes?
According to published reports, a new incident of athlete crime emerges once every two days. Domestic violence surpasses all other athlete crimes in a number of reports. The Benedict-Crosset Study of sexual assaults at thirty major Division I universities reported that athletes commit one in three college sexual assaults. The three-year study concluded that while male student-athletes comprise 3.3% of the college population, they represent 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators.
A Georgetown study found that although varsity student-athletes made up just over 11 percent of Georgetown’s undergraduate population, they were arrested and charged with violent assaults by D.C. prosecutors at a rate more than double that of the general student body. But even when these athletes were charged with crimes, court records revealed that the charges were dismissed every time. National statistics reflect a similar trend. When athletes are charged with crimes, their conviction rate is only 38% compared to 80% of the general population.
Some experts suggest that athletes commit a higher number of crimes because they are taught aggression at an early age, along with the need to win. With expensive scholarships and huge salaries, many athletes see themselves as “special” and expect to get their way. Athletes often believe they are immune to the rules and laws the rest of us live by.
I participated in team sports from the time I was a child until I graduated from college. I remember repeatedly hearing that sports build character. In hindsight, perhaps it isn’t the sports themselves that build character, but the adults who coach the teams and mentor athletes. Young athletes often model the behavior and attitudes of their coaches and of the athletes they idolize. I watch fewer sports now in large part because I’ve grown tired of the showboating, the high-fives, the trash talking and the fights. A routine tackle today elicits a “celebration” that rivals the winning team’s Super Bowl celebration.
Whatever the cause in the increase of crimes perpetuated by athletes, one thing is certain. Athletes are not above the law. This is a message that should be taught and enforced at an early age. And it is incumbent upon our judicial system to ensure that student and professional athletes are treated no differently than anyone else.