NFL failed to follow its own policy for punishing violent offenses, report finds

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The NFL is certainly no stranger to controversy. Now, a new report by researchers at the University of Arkansas finds the National Football League failed to follow through on its own punishment guidelines regarding violent acts committed by its players between 2010 and 2019.

On average, players allegedly committing “general violence” — or violent acts not directed toward women — received less than a third of the minimum required number of games suspended per league policy. NFL players found to have committed violent acts against women generally received longer suspensions, but even those suspensions failed to live up to the league’s minimum punishment standards.

“We don’t wish to draw attention away from violence specific to women, but our findings, we think, suggest that the league has less of a problem in this area and more of a problem addressing violent behavior in general,” says Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley, professor of human development and family sciences, in a university release. “In fact, the league punished players who committed drug offenses twice as much those who committed general acts of violence.”

Researchers analyzed data on 176 NFL players who violated league policies and received a suspension between 2010 and 2019. Study authors created their own database featuring each player’s general information, information on their violation, number of games suspended, and any other relevant data. Notably, all of the data used was entirely public and gathered from various mainstream news outlets such as ESPN News and The New York Times.

The research team identified four types of violations:

  • Violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, and sexual assault
  • “General” violence, such as assault or battery
  • Drug-connected offenses, including alcohol, driving under the influence, illegal or performance-enhancing drugs, and substance abuse
  • Minor sports-related offenses, such as missing a team meeting

Is the NFL holding players accountable off the field?

Over half of all the violations analyzed were violent in nature, with violence against women accounting for 14 percent of all infractions. General violent behaviors made up the largest portion, accounting for 40 percent of all offenses.

On average, players received a suspension of just 1.75 games following a general violence incident. Meanwhile, violent acts against women resulted in an average suspension of 4.08 games. Players committing drug-related offenses received suspensions of just over four games and minor offenses resulted in an average suspension of 1.88 games.

“There was surprisingly little empirical research out there on violence against women in the NFL and whether the league holds players accountable for it,” Prof. Wiersma-Mosley concludes. “Finding that it doesn’t was less surprising than discovering how little the league punishes players for general violence. We think these findings naturally inspire many additional questions about implementation of league policy and labor relations between owners and player.”

The study is published in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.