By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The arrest rate for the general U.S. population was nearly twice that of NFL players from 2000 to 2013, refuting a perception generated by recent news stories that professional football players are more prone to criminal behavior, a new study shows.
Researchers compared overall arrest rates among 1,952 National Football League players with men between the ages of 20 and 39 across the country during that period.
"This study was surprising because of the narrative that exists out there that the NFL has a crime problem," Alex Piquero, a University of Texas at Dallas criminology professor and co-author of the study, told Reuters. "But the majority of NFL players don't commit crimes. People lose sight of that.
"You get these one or two images and they're terrible events. But those things do not portray an accurate picture of what NFL players are involved in."
Several high-profile incidents, including the murder conviction of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez and domestic violence cases involving Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice, have cast the spotlight on the NFL and players' behavior.
The study, "The National Felon League? A Comparison of NFL Arrests to General Population Arrests," was published online late on Monday in the Journal of Criminal Justice and will appear in October's issue.
Piquero and two co-authors from Florida State University measured arrest rates for total crime, property crime, violent crime and public order crime, which includes arrests for offenses like drug possession and disorderly conduct.
The arrest rate for the general population was decidedly higher than that of NFL players in every year of the study, and for most years it was 1-1/2 to two times greater, the study found.
Piquero's study did not include domestic abuse because the FBI does not break down crimes in that area.
"We have long recognized that arrest rates of NFL players are far below the general population," Charles Way, the NFL's vice president of player engagement, said.
"Everyone in the league – coaches, players and executives - is held to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be associated with the NFL."
NFL players, however, had a higher arrest rate for violent crimes, like assaults and homicides, in six of the 14 years studied.
Violent crime arrest rates in the NFL spiked between 2004 and 2008, while the general population's violent crime arrest rate remained flat, the study found.
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Peter Cooney)