Do Athletes Drive Drunk More Than Most People?
If you subscribe to a sports news update, you might sometimes mistake it for a crime report: almost every day you’ll find news of an arrest, trial, or conviction of some sports figure. A lot of those arrests are for driving under the influence. You’d be pardoned for assuming that athletes drive drunk every chance they get.
Some of our recent DUI arrests:
- Alvin Bailey, Cleveland Browns
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets
- Shiloh Keo, Denver Broncos
- T.J. McDonald, LA Rams
- Jonathan Williams, Buffalo Bills
- Lawrence Taylor, former New York Giants
- Iman Shumpert, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Ray Bourque, former Boston Bruins
- Evgeny Medvedev, former Philadelphia Flyers
- Jeremy Feffress, Texas Rangers
In addition, we have a wealth of college athletes, among them
- Tucker Beirne, University of Miama
- Duane Gibson, University of Evansville
Also former college athletes and even a couple of coaches. And that’s just this year.
This procession of athletic talent raises questions, most notably, do athletes drive drunk more often than you and I do? The answer, which might surprise you, is probably no. Last year a UT Dallas study examined the perception and reality of crime among NFL players. It found that the arrest rate was lower in general for the NFL than the general population, with the exception of some violent crimes.
Basketball and baseball players don’t get arrested in greater percentages than NFL players, suggesting that the general perception of professional athletes as DUIs waiting to happen is a result of the prominence of the players and the publicity their trials get.
College athletes are a different story, because college students (and people of college age) are more prone to drink and drive than the general population. The highest risk group for DUI is young adults age 18 to 25 – exactly the age of college athletes.
But What Happens When College Athletes Drive Drunk?
What might be different is the way college athletes with a DUI are treated. Last year ESPN collected 6 years’ worth of police reports involving college athletes in 10 major programs, and found that many students evaded criminal charges for a variety of crimes, including drunk driving. Some athletic programs had a lawyer on call in case a player got arrested, and officials from athletic departments tried to impede investigations.
Not all schools shield athletes who drive drunk, of course. Increased scrutiny in recent years has brought some sunlight to disinfect parts of the system. The fact that both studies mentioned here were performed in 2015 shows that more eyes are on the problem of sports and crime.
But the sad fact remains that athletes, both professional and student, are watched and admired by the public. Being arrested for DUI at the national rate is still not good enough. Athletes should assume the mantle of role model and hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior. Until leagues and schools hold them to that standard, we’ll be seeing more well-publicized DUI arrests in the news.