Are Pro Athletes More Likely To Get Arrested For DUI?

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 05: Wide receiver Justin Blackmon #14 during Jacksonville Jaguars Minicamp at EverBank Field on May 5, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)

Sadly, it isn't unusual to hear about a professional athlete earning a DUI. But are these athletes better or worse about drunk driving than we are?

Driving while intoxicated is a strange crime. If you were to learn that a person committed, say, an aggravated assault, you wouldn't think, "That person's stupid." You'd think, "That person is a bad, violent person."

I can't quite say the same of Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars rookie who was arrested for DUI after blowing a 0.24. Drink a little, and you become a less inhibited version of yourself. Drink triple the legal limit, as Blackmon did, and if you ask me, you probably stop being yourself entirely. You have the reasoning skills and cognitive ability of a woodland creature.

That you even got there to begin with is still your sin, but it's not a sin of malice or violence. It's a sin of being too thoughtless and irresponsible to avoid such a situation in the first place. You should have given your keys to a friend, or arranged for a cab, or ... maybe not had that much to drink. And regardless of origin, it's a pretty grave sin, because it kills upwards of 10,000 people a year.

Whenever a professional athlete is arrested for DUI/DWI, we hear about it. And of course, each time is a time too many. But I got curious: are these pro athletes really worse about committing DUIs than we are?


* - All found incidences of athlete DUI/DWI arrests between June 5th, 2011 and June 5th, 2012
** - Estimated DUI/DWI arrests in 2010, from

I spent some time digging up every report I could of MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL athletes who were arrested for suspicion of intoxicated driving over the last year, found the ratio of these players to every player in their respective leagues, and stacked them up against the DUI rate of the average licensed American driver. The difference in sample size is pretty dramatic, of course: while there are an estimated 210 million licensed U.S. drivers, there are only about 1,750 players on NFL rosters in any given year.

But the sample size is still large enough to tell us something, I think: NFL players are no worse about it than the average American, and NBA and MLB players, in fact, are significantly better about it. And as for hockey: I was unable to find a single NHL player who was arrested for intoxicated driving over the last 365 days.

There are, of course, a couple of big questions that come up:

These are arrest rates, not the total number of people who actually drive drunk. Is the arrest rate even relevant?

I think so. If these people were breaking a law that's inconsistently enforced -- say, drug possession -- I would think that a person as wealthy and famous as a pro athlete would stand a much better chance of evading prosecution. Drunk driving laws, though, are not such laws. If a cop sees you driving erratically, he/she isn't going to pull you over and smell alcohol on you, find out you're Bobby Jenks, and send you off with a warning. The police generally do not play around with this sort of crime.

Don't these guys inherently hold an advantage, since they're able to hire drivers and the like?

True, their path to securing a ride home is a little bit easier than ours. In fact, the NFL has even instituted a "safe ride" program that will give players a lift if they ask for one. I'm not so sure this matters, though, because it's not like our situation is all that difficult either. Cabs aren't all that expensive. And if you're in a rural area without a cab ... I mean, it's still not too tough to plan accordingly.

Why does this even matter?

The point, I guess, is this: We're often conditioned to think the worst of athletes. We hear about them, for example, driving drunk, and we assume that they're more irresponsible than the average person. But in terms of DUI, at least -- one of the most profoundly-expressed traits of 21st-century American irresponsibility -- it would seem that they, for one reason or another, are more responsible about it than we are.

UPDATE: It turns out that I originally missed one MLB player with a recent DUI arrest. The Braves' Cristhian Martinez was arrested in April. This means that between June 5th, 2011 and June 5th, 2012, 1 of every 325 MLB players had a DUI/DWI arrest -- still far better than the ratio of the average American driver. Thanks to Struck Out Swinging, via @gihnow, for the heads-up.

For good measure, this is the complete list of athletes with DUI/DWI arrests I was able to find between June 5th, 2011, and June 5th, 2012. NFL: Justin Blackmon, Jerome Felton, Nick Fairley, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon Meriweather, Knowshon Moreno, Aldon Smith, Rhett Bomar, Matt Prater, Paul Hubbard, Hines Ward. MLB: Matt Bush, Bobby Jenks, Alex White, Cristhian Martinez. NBA: Charlie Bell, Ben Wallace.

I found all I could, but if you're aware of any I missed, please let me know.
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