A few bad apples shouldn't label the NFL with an image problem

USA TODAY Sports

People love to over-react with self-made conclusions based on high profile arrests. But that's not fair to nearly 98 percent of the league who don't get into trouble with the law.

NFL coaches and front office executives are people of two worlds this time of year. Enjoying vacations away from the game's ridiculous demands, coaches involuntarily place a tireless ear to the ground with eye into the sky. It's not that NFL teams are expecting to learn that their own players are facing difficult legal troubles, like former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez being charged with first-degree murder and former Browns linebacker Ausar Walcott facing a charge of attempted murder.

It's the six-week break that begins after the offseason training program ends and training camp begins. Young players have nothing to do. Facilities are closed, structure is suspended, and many young men are rudderless. But are those perspectives truly indicative of what the NFL is going through?

"Around the league, players are getting their annual five- to six-week stretch of freedom, a respite from the structure and grind," Tom Reed with the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote on June 8, 2013. "It’s a fun period for them and a worrisome one for coaches and management, who wonder how players will fill the idle time."

Assuming every team employs 90 players on their roster, there is a maximum of 2,880 active players. Two have been arrested since the end of minicamp -- or 0.07 percent. Yet the fear is that anything could happen.

"That’s the time when the antenna should go up," veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson told the Plain Dealer. "You look for the stories to come out on Pro Football Talk and other sites -- guys getting into trouble. You get some time off and guys that don’t know how to handle it get a little crazy."

Even so, 27 active players have been arrested since the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3. A total of 55 in the last calender year. Most are DUI arrests, some small marijuana possession charges, street racing, probation violation, prostitution and in some cases, fights in a bar during early morning hours. More serious crimes, such as abuse and battery, have hardly been absent.

Two of the most serious charges surfaced last week when police, with overwhelming evidence, arrested Hernandez in connection with the death Odin Lloyd. Later that week, Walcott was arrested for allegedly punching a man outside of a New Jersey club that resulted in an attempted murder charge. Adam Jones was arrested and charged with assault earlier this month, totaling three arrests since minicamps concluded.

These recent incidents have resurfaced discussions about an image problem in the NFL.

"Those would be the Ray Lewis case, and the trial of Rae Carruth, convicted of murdering his pregnant girlfriend," writes Mike Freeman with CBSSports.com. "Those cases were supposed to be the ones that changed the sport for the better. Teams were supposed to be more cautious in drafting and selecting players. At the time, on the heels of those cases, we thought it was the end of the bad-boy NFL player era.

"Yet, unfortunately, here we are again. And while the case of Kansas City player Jovan Belcher was tragic--he killed his girlfriend before turning gun on himself--it is these high profile court cases that are even more problematic for the sport. Because there is the allegation, followed by the publicity of a trial or court stint, that further hurts the NFL's reputation."

"That’s not the kind of publicity the NFL wants on its doorstep," wrote Gene Frenette with Jacksonville.com earlier this week. "Goodell takes great pride in the league’s personal conduct policy that suspends players who engage in questionable behavior. Right now, that conduct policy isn’t looking like much of a deterrent."

These discussions surfaced after Hernandez, a high-profile player who is charged with a serious crime, was publicly connected to the death to Lloyd. Accelerating the discussions is the "dead period" with the NFL on vacation, limiting subjects for talking heads to major NFL headlines.

However the discussions are clearly unfair due to the acts of only a few men. And that doesn't stop Geraldo Rivera from overreacting on Rush Limbaugh's show.

"I don't know why the league who recruits these kids from the inner city, how they don't have minders, how the agents who are collecting 10% of $40 million... Where are they in all of this? Why aren't they mentoring these young men who are fatherless, many of them -- Ray Lewis and all of the rest. Michael Vick. Uh, you can count them. There's a ton of them."

The estimated arrest rate in the United States was four percent in 2011, according to the FBI. When factoring age and sex, the estimate actually grows to 10 percent. Comparatively speaking, only 2.8 percent of the league's players were arrested that same year.

We're not excusing those 2.8 percent, but let's be fair to the other 97.2 percent by not blanketing the league with a "image problem" until there actually is one. And on a day in which we're recalling Joe Delaney's sacrifice 30 years ago today, the NFL has more players dedicated to good than bad.

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