NFL Players with Criminal Records: History, Recent Cases and NFL’s Response

By Casey
13 Min Read

In the high-stakes world of the National Football League (NFL), the prowess and achievements of the players on the field often share the limelight with their lives off the field, especially when it intersects with the law. The issue of NFL players with criminal records is a complex and multifaceted one, stirring debates about player conduct, league policies, and societal influences. This comprehensive exploration looks into the historical and recent trends of legal issues involving NFL players, scrutinizing the underlying causes, the NFL’s response, and the broader impact on public perception. We aim to provide an in-depth understanding of how and why some of the most celebrated athletes find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and what is being done to address this challenging aspect of professional sports.

Historical Context and Key Cases

Over the years, the NFL has witnessed a range of legal issues involving its players:

  1. Michael Vick: One of the most infamous cases involved Michael Vick, who was suspended indefinitely without pay in 2007 when he pleaded guilty to dogfighting conspiracy. He was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and was conditionally reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2009, eventually signing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
  2. Adam “Pacman” Jones: Known for multiple legal issues, Jones was suspended for the 2007 season after multiple arrests while playing for the Tennessee Titans. His legal troubles include at least seven arrests and involvement in about a dozen incidents requiring police intervention.
  3. Ryan Leaf: After his NFL career, which lasted from 1998-2001, Leaf ran into legal problems involving drugs. He pleaded guilty to burglary and drug possession and was sentenced to a five-year jail term.
  4. Kenny Britt: Within a two-year period, Britt had seven encounters with the police, mostly related to driving offenses, including a DUI for which he was found not guilty, driving with a revoked license, and pleading guilty to eluding police and reckless driving.
  5. Chris Henry: Between 2005 and 2008, Henry was arrested six times, mostly due to drugs, alcohol, and assault. His life ended tragically in 2009 during a domestic dispute.
  6. Aldon Smith: He also had six arrests, mainly due to alcohol and drugs, including multiple DUIs and incidents involving alcohol and/or drugs.

These cases reflect a range of issues, from substance abuse to violent behavior, and highlight the ongoing challenges within the NFL related to player conduct and legal adherence.

NFL Players with Criminal Records: Recent Cases

In recent years, several notable incidents have occurred:

Plaxico Burress (2008)

  • Incident: Accidentally shot himself in the leg at a nightclub.
  • Outcome: Served 20 months in prison.
  • Impact: This high-profile case brought attention to firearm violations among NFL players.

Chris Lammons (2022)

  • Charges: Battery in an alleged assault.
  • Outcome: Resolution undetermined as of the last update.
  • Context: The case involves other NFL players and highlights issues of violence and aggression within the league.

Damon Arnette (2022)

  • Charges: Assault with a deadly weapon and drug-related charges.
  • Outcome: Resolution undetermined as of the last update.
  • Significance: Arnette’s case is part of a broader pattern of legal troubles among NFL players, especially related to assault and drug offenses.

Damien Wilson (2022)

  • Incident: Accused of assaulting his girlfriend.
  • Outcome: Details about the legal proceedings are not specified in the available information.
  • Relevance: Highlights the ongoing issue of domestic violence among NFL players.

Deshazor Everett (2021)

  • Incident: Involved in a car accident leading to a fatality.
  • Outcome: Pleaded guilty and received three months of house arrest.
  • Implications: Raises concerns about vehicular offenses and DUIs among NFL players.

Malik McDowell (2019, 2022)

  • Charges: Assault, resisting arrest, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated in 2019; public exposure, resisting arrest, and aggravated battery of an officer in 2022.
  • Outcome: Probation ended in November 2022.
  • Insights: McDowell’s repeated run-ins with the law demonstrate issues of recidivism and the need for effective intervention and support for players.

These cases represent just a fraction of the legal challenges faced by NFL players in recent years. They highlight various issues, including violence, substance abuse, and firearm violations, underscoring the need for continuous focus on player behavior, legal adherence, and support systems within the NFL.

Read: Can NFL Players Take Adderall?

Team-Specific Arrest Data

Arrest records among NFL teams vary, with some teams experiencing more legal troubles with their players:

Minnesota Vikings

  • Number of Arrests: 34
  • Notable Case: Cedric Griffin for disorderly conduct.
  • Overview: The Vikings had the highest number of arrests since 2001, indicating a pattern of legal issues within the team.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Number of Arrests: 31
  • Overview: The Bengals have the second-highest number of arrests in the league since 2001, reflecting recurring disciplinary issues.

Tennessee Titans

  • Number of Arrests: 29
  • Overview: Tied with Denver Broncos for third place in terms of arrests, indicating significant legal troubles among players.

Denver Broncos

  • Number of Arrests: 29
  • Notable Case: Brandon Marshall had multiple domestic dispute incidents.
  • Overview: Alongside the Titans, the Broncos have a high number of arrests, pointing to player conduct concerns.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Number of Arrests: 22
  • Notable Case: Jared Allen arrested twice in five months for DUI.
  • Overview: The Chiefs have faced various legal issues, affecting the team’s public image.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Number of Arrests: 22
  • Overview: The Buccaneers have also experienced a considerable number of player arrests, showcasing challenges in player management.

Chicago Bears

  • Number of Arrests: 19
  • Notable Case: Terry “Tank” Johnson with multiple weapons charges.
  • Overview: The Bears’ arrest numbers are significant, with some high-profile cases.

Cleveland Browns

  • Number of Arrests: 22
  • Overview: The Browns have had a substantial number of arrests, raising questions about the team’s player conduct policies.

San Diego Chargers

  • Number of Arrests: 24
  • Notable Case: Kevin Ellison guilty of possessing 100 pills of Vicodin.
  • Overview: Chargers’ players have faced various legal issues, impacting the team’s reputation.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Number of Arrests: 25
  • Notable Case: Matt Jones found with cocaine.
  • Overview: The Jaguars have had numerous legal encounters involving their players.

The trend of NFL player arrests has been a topic of scrutiny and concern. While the overall number of arrests may seem alarming, it’s important to contextualize these figures:

  1. NFL vs. General Population Arrest Rates: Despite the high-profile nature of NFL player arrests, studies indicate that NFL players have a lower overall arrest rate compared to the general U.S. male population in the same age group. However, they exhibit higher rates of arrests for violent crimes in certain years.
  2. Prevalence of Substance Abuse: Many arrests among NFL players are linked to substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs. This issue is not exclusive to the NFL but reflects broader societal challenges.
  3. Repeated Offenders: A small group of players, such as Kenny Britt and Aldon Smith, account for a disproportionate number of arrests, often for similar offenses like DUI and drug-related issues.
  4. Domestic Violence Cases: High-profile cases involving domestic violence, like those of Ray Rice, have brought significant attention to this issue within the NFL community, leading to discussions about player conduct policies and support systems.

Causes of Violent Behaviors and Arrests

Understanding the causes behind the arrests and violent behaviors of some NFL players is crucial in addressing these issues:

  1. Link to Substance Abuse: The majority of violent behaviors among athletes, including NFL players, are connected to substance abuse. The NFL has strict regulations against substance abuse, but the challenge remains in ensuring compliance and providing adequate support for players struggling with these issues.
  2. Mental Health Concerns: Cases like Chris Henry, who was diagnosed with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) post-mortem, highlight the potential impact of brain injuries on behavior. CTE and other mental health issues can contribute to impulsive actions, aggression, and poor judgment.
  3. Stress and Pressure of Professional Sports: The high-pressure environment of professional sports can contribute to stress and mental health issues, which may manifest in harmful behaviors or poor decision-making.
  4. Lack of Early Intervention: In some cases, early signs of problematic behavior are not adequately addressed, leading to escalation and eventual legal troubles.

NFL’s Response and Policies

The NFL has taken steps to address the issue of player arrests and misconduct:

Personal Conduct Policy

  1. Stringent Rules and Enforcement: The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy applies to all league personnel, not just players. It sets clear expectations for behavior and outlines potential penalties for violations, including fines, suspension, or even banishment from the league.
  2. Zero-Tolerance for Domestic Violence: Following high-profile domestic violence cases, the NFL implemented a policy that includes a six-game suspension for first-time offenders and a potential lifetime ban for a second offense.
  3. Comprehensive Disciplinary Process: When an allegation arises, the NFL conducts thorough investigations, often led by external experts, before determining disciplinary actions.

Read: Can NFL Players Bet on Other Sports?

Educational and Preventive Programs

  1. Rookie Symposium: This mandatory program for all incoming NFL players covers topics like personal conduct, financial management, and life skills to help rookies transition into professional sports.
  2. Mental Health and Wellness Programs: The NFL provides resources and access to mental health professionals, recognizing the impact of mental health on behavior.
  3. Substance Abuse Policy: The league has a policy that includes testing for performance-enhancing drugs and substances of abuse. Violations can lead to suspensions and mandatory participation in substance abuse programs.

Player Support and Rehabilitation Efforts

  1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): These programs offer confidential counseling and support services for players dealing with personal or professional issues, including substance abuse and mental health challenges.
  2. LifeLine Program: A confidential, independent service providing professional counseling and mental health services to players, coaches, and league staff.

Final Thoughts

The issue of NFL players with criminal records is complex, influenced by various factors including individual behavior, societal pressures, and the inherent challenges of professional sports. The NFL’s approach to managing player conduct and promoting positive behavior is multifaceted, involving prevention, education, support, and rehabilitation. By continuing to evolve and adapt its strategies, the NFL can strive to reduce the incidence of player arrests and foster a culture of responsibility, respect, and positive impact both on and off the field.

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By Casey
Casey is a seasoned NFL aficionado with years of dedication to observing and analyzing the intricacies of American football. As the mastermind behind "NFL Schedule", Casey offers a treasure trove of insights ranging from detailed analyses of team schedules to the cultural nuances within the sport. His website is a testament to his passion, showcasing articles on diverse topics like team logistics, player experiences, and the financial aspects of the game. Casey's expertise is not just in the statistics and strategies of football, but also in its cultural and human elements, making him a comprehensive guide to the world of the NFL.
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