As the Aaron Hernandez situation unfolds before our eyes—he seems to soon be arrested for obstruction of justice, for destroying what would have been evidence in a murder case—it may be time to re-spark the conversations on player education.
In 2009, Sports Illustrated estimated that 78% of NFL players go broke or get into serious financial trouble within two years following the end of their football career. While still a problem, yet not as severe, 60 percent of NBA players were estimated to go broke within five years after retirement.
According to UT San Diego's NFL player arrest database, 34 arrests have been made since the top of the year; 35 when Hernandez is included.
At this point in the offseason, that would account for less than one percent of the league, but there's still something about seeing any numbers of arrests in a league of large salaries and benefits.
Why does it happen?
Now, before I begin, I will let you know that I believe a player's personal actions are his own responsibility, but there are always physiological and external factors involved with any arrest or criminal action. I am also not going to 'beat around the bush.'
~Bad friends, bad neighborhoods: Imagine you come from a 'rough' area—there's a lot of violence around and you don't exactly live in a fancy house. Yet, above all else, you have very close friends, ones that would literally die for you. Love between you and your boys is pretty much the only thing you've had your whole life. Heck, even your parents aren't really the most reliable. Your boys get into some trouble; you do, too. However, football's become an escape for you and you get good enough to get drafted. Regardless if it was Round 1 or 7 (even if you weren't drafted at all), this is the most money you've even seen in your life—except that drug dealer with the nice rims on his car. Now, you learn you've gotta stay on the 'straight and narrow' to keep the dream alive, but that's not the case for your boys. They can keep getting in trouble because they're not held to the standards you are. But you're not going to just abandon them; they didn't do that to you when you were almost shot, twice. So now you're rich, or at least in your mind, with less than model citizens around. You treat them, because that's what the big boys do. You buy the shots, you buy the weed, you buy the coke. You're the big man on campus, but the one set up to fall from Heaven. You'll take the fall, and they won't be around to help. More after the jump...
~Aggression?: Football is one of the most agressive sports in the world, so it should be no surprise that some players are arrested, right? I mean, you're asking players to ram into each other going beyond the normal human's speed, with beyond-human strength. But wait, Mr. Roger Goodell is trying to make this game "safer." But that's not what the fans want. How is a running back supposed to get a TD if he has to completely adjust his game, to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits? It's bound to happen. And when the adrenaline is trained to pump out on Sunday, who's to say it's not trained to pump out in other "fight or flight" situations. Are you just supposed to stand idly by while some jerk tries to talk to your girl at the nightclub? No, you're a freakin' NFL player. You're a big guy and a bigshot. That's not what real men do, and you're always packing heat, so let's show this guy what's really up.
~"My financial advisor told me...": He's the guy that has been there for you since day one of your NFL life. You decided you had to cut ties with your boys, so the guy that's taking care of your money is one of your closest friends. He tells you that you won't ever have to worry about financial issues; he has your back. He tells you about a couple 110% guaranteed investments, that you'd be insane not to get into. You agree—you've never had money, so he obviously knows more than you. But he's not your friend, he's in this for himself. You get a phone call from some 'federal guys' that explain what good of a friend you really had. You're broke and very angry. The last person you trusted stabbed you in the back. You go back to your boys and they don't want to talk to you. You're alone.
What can be done?
~Use the Da'Rick Rogers example: Don't draft players that have made one mistake too many. Maybe you're a good person and want to try on someone with talent, picking them up as a UDFA. Fine. But make it the one strike and you're out rule. Enough rewarding those with God-given talent, with devil-like habits.
~Tougher/Morality Contracts: Hold your players' hands. Yes, these are men, but no man needs to be at stripclubs or nightclubs every night. No player needs to have a concealed weapon on them at all times. Look at Josh Hamilton in the MLB. He is a talent, that has relapsed in his alcohol and drug problems. He needed clauses in his contract to protect the Angels from his issues, and he received them.
~Better Education: Yes, the NFL goes to great lengths to teach players about finances and safety, but something is not working. If it's broke, fix it, and obviously it is. I suggest community college-like classes where players—many looking to complete degrees anyway—can learn how to budget their money and stay out of trouble, and receive college credit in return.
There's no one solution, but it's time to have a more in-depth conversation, and enlist the support of professionals, to minimalize this issue.