Athletes and criminality

It is quite common for writers and pundits in the sports media to rail about the behavior of athletes in professional and college sports. Much of this commentary focuses on why criminal behavior by athletes has gotten so bad in recent years. I am compelled to ask, however, if the behavior of athletes is significantly worse now than it has been in the past.

For example, Smith (2009) points out that “the marriage between sportswriters and teams and players from the past allowed many bad deeds and violent crimes by athletes to go unreported…today, bad behavior is more likely to be reported” (p. 175). He goes on, however, to argue that sport used to have a sense of civility that has been lost, leading to the bad behavior we see by athletes today. I see a problem with this argument, in that it lacks support in the form of direct evidence showing that criminal/uncivil behavior by athletes is worse than it has been in the past.

Thus, I return to my question about the extent to which athletes are engaging in an increased amount of criminal behavior, compared with the extent to which such incidents are reported and/or prosecuted more than in the past. What evidence is available that might help provide insight to this question?


Smith, Earl. (2009). Race, sport and the American dream (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.


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