NFL must use vast resources to address off-field violence
Aaron Hernandez, the tight end for the New England Patriots who was charged with murder this week for allegedly orchestrating the brutal execution of an acquaintance, is responsible for his own conduct.
But he was just one of two NFL players arrested Wednesday. The other, Ausar Wolcott, a free agent rookie linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, was charged with attempted murder for allegedly punching and seriously injuring another man outside a New Jersey nightclub.
Hernandez and Wolcott were the 26th and 27th active NFL players to be arrested since the Super Bowl, which was Feb. 3.
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Some of the arrests were for non-violent crimes such as public intoxication, driving under the influence of alcohol, and possession of personal-use amounts of marijuana.
Other arrests, however, are more serious: Michael Boley of the New York Giants Feb. 8 in Alabama for alleged child abuse; Amari Spivey, Detroit Lions, March 27, third-degree assault in an alleged domestic violence incident in Connecticut; Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals, May 3 for aggravated assault for an alleged domestic violence incident; Mike Goodson, New York Jets, May 17 in New Jersey on drug and gun charges; Pacman Jones, Cincinnati Bengal June 11 for allegedly punching a woman a few weeks after he spoke to incoming NFL rookies on staying out of trouble; Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles, June 12 for allegedly street racing and leading police on a high-speed chase.
Also, last December, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his 22-year-old girlfriend, who was the mother of their infant daughter, and himself.
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The NFL already has programs aimed at helping players with personal problems and keeping them out of trouble. It famously screens draft-eligible players with a degree of detail that would make the National Security Agency envious.
But it obviously isn't working well enough. It has failed to contain violence to the field.
The league also points to FBI statistics that show the incidence of NFL players getting arrested is, at 2 percent of players each year, about half that of the general public.
But Jeff Benedict, author of several books on athletes and crimes, believes the FBI statistics are a bad gauge. He notes the prevalence of the NFL players having been to college, making a lot of money and living in safe, good neighborhoods.
"The issue is why any of these guys are doing this when they have all these good things going on in their lives?" he told the AP.
A good question, indeed.
Zero tolerance is a tempting phrase, but dismissing violent players just makes them someone else's problem. The league needs to spend some of its vast resources to further zero in on criminal conduct, helping victims and players alike.