Is Football America's Most Violent Sport?

Is Football America's Most Violent Sport?

Why you should care

Because your favorite billion-dollar-generating sport is probably getting called for penalties off the field, rather than on the gridiron. 

It was a few weeks ago when Minnesota state representative Pat Garofalo made his feelings known about the National Basketball Association. It was a random sentiment that got the politician a death threat from the social media shot. The fifth-term Republican tweeted that no one would notice if 70 percent of NBA teams folded with the “possible exception of increase in street crime.” After boldly sticking by what many believed to be a racist quip aimed at a league that is 76.3 percent black, Garofalo apologized for the ill-advised posting, adding “The NBA has many examples of players and owners who are role models for our communities and for our country.”

Pat upclose wearing glasses, jacket and white shirt

Pat Garofalo

But the real story isn’t yet another politician sounding off the horn to constituents all too happy to applaud race-baiting jabs. It was the much more omnipotent sports league that was curiously left out of the Garofalo’s Twitter drive-by: the NFL, a league that, it turns out, is more violent – but less often portrayed as “thuggish.” Why? It’s not as simple as you’d think. The NFL isn’t all that much whiter – it’s 70 percent black.

An attack on the NFL would be viewed more as a general attack on America. Whereas attacking the NBA is viewed as attacking Black America.

Basketball scribe Khalid Salaam, formerly at Slam Magazine, and now at sports/lifestyle site, the Shadow League, points out the NFL still has, ”a strong component of white players and white coaches. An attack on the NFL would be viewed more as a general attack on America. Whereas attacking the NBA is viewed as attacking Black America.”

Salaam traces the racial tensions of the NBA to a single brawl. On November 19, 2004, a fateful game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers went down. When a hostile fan threw beer at bruising defensive minded forward Ron Artest (aka Meta World Peace), a melee ensued. After the dust settled, nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games.

Brawl between fans and player Ron in middle of basketball stands

Ron Artest fighting with a fan during a a brawl at a game against the Detroit Pistons, in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Source Duane Burleson/AP/Corbis

Since 2013, seven NBA players have been arrested, according to the database site Arrest Nation. Today, pro basketballers have the most spots in the top 20 list of highest paid athlete endorsers, with omnipresent sports icon LeBron James leading his hard court peers at no. 4 with more than $42 million in deals. In turn, NBA commissioner David Stern and hoops deities Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan led the league out of the so-called drug crises of the ’70s and early ’80s. But ESPN’s Jason Whitlock has never bought into the NBA’s reputation as a troubled league.

“I’ve always felt that white sports writers just didn’t like how black the NBA became in the 1970s,” he wrote on February 1st. “So they sold the myth that pro basketball players used more cocaine than baseball and football players.”

An average of at least 47 NFL players have been arrested each year.

By comparison, former NFL star Darren Sharper has, since January, faced eight rape charges and one for sexual battery across five states (police claim that Shaper allegedly drugged his victims’ drinks causing them to black out). In February, Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice was arrested after allegedly knocking out his now wife at an Atlantic City casino – all reportedly caught on surveillance. Among other notable players that have made the police blotter: Richie Incognito, Jovan Belcher, Aaron Hernandez, Andre Smith, Chris Rainey, Jay Ratliff, Robert Sands, and Michael Boley – all ranging from resisting arrest and DUI stops to outright murder.

Man in jacket and blk shirt looking towards left of frame

Former professional football player Darren Sharper appears for his arraignment in Los Angeles, California February 20, 2014.

Source Mrio Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

From 2005 on, an average of at least 47 NFL players have been arrested each year. But according to Buffalo Bills receiver Ramses Barden, such figures unfairly paint the majority of NFL talent as rampant criminals. “The personalities that you get in the NFL are the same that you get in any corporate structured environment,” says Barden. ”The NFL just happens to be on a bigger stage where we get a lot more attention.”

The NFL has become virtually untouchable – between television ratings and America’s fantasy football obsession. Yet race is an afterthought for the industry that took in an impressive $10 billion in 2013 (major league baseball came in second at $7.5 billion).

So is it all about the money? Well, the answer is a bit more black and white.

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