Athletes and crime: the correlation remains elusive


Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice addresses the media in 2014 regarding his domestic abuse charges. He is seated with his wife Janay, the victim of the abuse who was his fiancée at the time of the incident.

Sports have always been seen as a way to bring the diverse populace of an area together as each team’s local fan base come together to root for the home team. The advent of televised sport in the mid-20th century only expanded and increased loyalty to teams.

With this increased attention, the athletes have gained more recognition. Some of these players gain enormous amounts of fame, which makes them feel as if they are on top of the world. Unfortunately, some of these players develop a feeling of invincibility where they feel like they can get away with anything, including crime.

When an athlete is accused of committing a crime, the news usually spreads like wildfire due to the large fan bases these athletes have developed. The crime gains public attention, the media latch onto the story, and the story takes on a life of its own.

Take the incident involving the NBA’s Ja Morant, for example. During a live Instagram feed the Memphis Grizzlies star point guard posted on March 4, he can be seen flashing a gun while in a Glendale, Colo., nightclub. In a country where weekly mass shootings have become the norm, one would not expect someone brandishing a gun in public to make national news.

However, this was a well-known athlete with a large social media following. As a result, a police investigation ensued, and Morant was eventually sidelined.

 One of the most commonly committed crimes by athletes involves domestic violence. USA Today keeps a database that tracks the crimes of athletes which states that 134 National Football Players have been involved in domestic violence crimes since 2000. Some NFL megastars involved in domestic violence incidents prior to 2000 include Ezekiel Elliott, Tyreek Hill, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson. 

Elliot served a six-game suspension in 2017 when the NFL found him guilty of domestic abuse. In December 2014, Hill was accused by his girlfriend that he had “badly” hurt her. Peterson was arrested for physically abusing his wife in an airport where he would be taken off of his flight. Peterson was also found guilty of child abuse in another incident wherein he was convicted of misdemeanor reckless assault. 

Although all of these cases were public, the most infamous case involved the actions of Rice, the then Baltimore Ravens star running back. His 2014 case became a national news sensation because there is video of the incident wherein Rice wickedly punches his then fiancée multiple times and then drags her limp body by her hair. This traumatizing video brought light to the many cases of athletes committing crimes. These crimes are “outrageous because so many little kids look up to [the athletes],” Olympic Heights junior Jake Greenberg comments.

Those looking for a correlation between crime and professional athletes sometimes point to how the brutal nature of sports such as football leads to brain damage leading to a greater propensity to commit crimes. However, studies show that such a correlation varies from sport to sport.

Even in sports such as baseball that do not have high amounts of contact, there are still players that are committing violent crimes. Former New York Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre was convicted of raping and murdering a 22-month-old baby last year. Prior to that conviction, he was accused of domestic abuse by his girlfriend. 

Some researchers are still set on the notion that brain damage from contact sports results in the increased chance of committing crimes, however. Of course, there are other mitigating factors that come into play, including but not limited to factors such as background and upbringing to the preferential treatment very talented athletes begin receiving at an early age.