With so many well-publicized instances of NFL players getting into trouble with the law, it's easy for the league to have earned a reputation of employing criminals. High-visibility cases such as those involving Adam Jones, Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson and others have done nothing but reinforce this public perception.
It's an unfair reputation, according to a new study. NFL arrest rates aren't nearly as high as many would believe -- and, in fact, in some years NFL arrest are only half as common as those of the general U.S. population.
The study, published by a criminologist at UT-Dallas, examined arrest rates in the NFL between 2000 and 2013 and found that most professional football players buck the league's reputation -- they never get into any legal trouble.
But that's not how many fans see the league -- in part because of the way information reaches them.
"What happens is, in our instantaneous world right now, you see a video, you see a tweet and it becomes real," says Dr. Alex Piquero, one of the study's authors. "But, one image of one person does not necessarily characterize every single player."
The study's findings were less flattering on the subject of violent crime, however. For six of the 14 years studied, the NFL had a higher arrest rate for violent crimes than the general population. That includes domestic violence arrests, which couldn't be separated into their own category based on the type of data researchers found.
A spike in violent crime arrests came between 2004 and 2008 -- a period of heightened activity that was not mirrored by the general population.
Since 2008, however, such arrests have come back under control, possibly due to the league's decision to build clauses into contracts that put salary bonuses at risk in the event of a violent crime arrests.
Even so, the study's authors recommended that the NFL track their league's arrest data and provide sensitivity training to athletes. We'll see if the league chooses to listen.