The first year of reduced training schedules has made for a more pleasurable offseason for NFL players.
Some seem to be enjoying their time off a little too much.
The arrest of Detroit Lions cornerback Aaron Berry last weekend on a driving under the influence charge continued what's been a rather disturbing trend of poor decision-making by players involving motor vehicles and impairing substances. Berry's brush with the law came two weeks after veteran New York Giants offensive lineman David Diehl smashed a few parked cars while driving drunk in Manhattan and three after Jacksonville Jaguars rookie receiver Justin Blackmon reportedly had a blood alcohol level of .24 when nabbed by police in his native Oklahoma.
Seven current NFL athletes in all have been apprehended on suspicion of DUI since late April, with several others arrested for marijuana possession earlier in the offseason.
Those numbers, along with the extensive media coverage that each of those arrests has gained, has raised its share of questions. Does the league have a serious epidemic on its hands, and has the added downtime created by the decrease of offseason training activities and practice time under the new collective bargaining agreement contributed to the problem? And, finally, has the heavy emphasis that Roger Goodell has placed on controlling player conduct during his reign as commissioner actually been working?
To answer the last question, Goodell's hard-line policies -- albeit highly controversial in some instances and confusingly arbitrary in others -- have been quite effective. According to USA Today, there were 79 NFL player arrests in 2006, his first season as commissioner. That number has gradually declined every year since, with 62 reported violations this past season.
There have been 22 known arrests as 2012 reaches its halfway point, putting the league on pace to drastically lower its police blotter total from the previous year.
Other statistics suggest that the popular public perception of the NFL being infested with rogue characters lacking responsibility and accountability is way overblown. An ongoing study conducted by the San Diego Union Tribune found that about one of every 45 players have been arrested since 2000, a number well below the national average of one in 23 persons released by the FBI in 2010.
That's around 2 percent of the player population, a figure similar to the rate of offenders in Major League Baseball, a sport with far less of an image problem (at least in terms of criminal behavior), and sizably lower than the NBA. An analysis done by Minneapolis television station WCCO in October found that over 5 percent of pro basketball athletes in the United States had been in trouble, with MLB coming in at 2.1 percent.
The NFL's record of DUI crimes, approximately one out of every 144 players, is almost precisely in line with the national standard of one in 135 people.
So why the bad rap? It could be that Goodell's crusade on improving player safety and the league's gargantuan popularity have indirectly had a negative effect on his other primary priority, off-field conduct. Less offseason work has led to less news for scribes and bloggers covering the game year-round, pushing incidents like Berry's, Diehl's and Blackmon's more into the spotlight because there's frankly not a whole lot else to write and talk about at this time.
That's not saying those stories aren't newsworthy or relevant, however, or that the recent rash of bad judgements by players isn't a serious concern. It was an issue for years in Cincinnati and quickly becoming one in Detroit, which has wrested the dubious title of the NFL's house of hooligans from the Bengals following a flurry of off-field missteps over the past few months.
Berry's arrest was the sixth involving a member of the Lions' roster since the team's NFC playoff loss to New Orleans in January, with running back Mikel Leshoure and defensive tackle Nick Fairley each having two separate run-ins over that time frame.
There's been plenty of bad publicity on the field as well, with several stages of poor sportsmanship -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's infamous Thanksgiving Day stomp of a Green Bay lineman, a litany of personal foul penalties that highlighted a nationally televised defeat to the Saints back in December, hyperactive head coach Jim Schwartz's postgame spat with the equally intense Jim Harbaugh after a loss to San Francisco -- tapering the euphoria from a breakthrough 10-win campaign by the long-suffering franchise.
Still, don't expect Detroit to stray too much from its wild ways, as the swagger that's been fostered out of Schwartz's fiery pedal-to-the-medal demeanor has been as essential a factor in the club's return to respectability as any other. Or for Goodell to back down from his uncompromising philosophy on player discipline.
And as for the consequences that come from those lines of thought, it's just something the NFL has to live with.
KUDOS TO KELLY
Of course, there are a countless number of positive deeds done by the NFL and its players each and every day as well, most of which go unnoticed and unpublicized simply because they don't usually grab headlines. One such do- gooder is former Buffalo Bills quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who was among those recognized at the 2012 Jefferson Awards ceremony in Washington last week.
Kelly was named in the category of Outstanding Athletes in Service and Philanthropy for his work toward raising research and awareness for Krabbe Leukodystrophy, a fatal nervous system disease that claimed the life of his son, Hunter, at age 8 in 2005. He and his wife Jill established Hunter's Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization created to broaden public knowledge of the disease, increase the chances of early detection and awareness in young children and provide support for families afflicted by Krabbe's, that same year. Kelly also serves as the chairman of Kelly for Kids, a foundation that has distributed more than $4 million to charities for disabled and disadvantaged youth in the Buffalo area since its inception.
The Jefferson Award, known as "The Nobel Prize for Public Service," is one of the nation's highest honors for community service and volunteerism. Other past NFL winners include Peyton Manning, Warrick Dunn, Troy Vincent and Nnamdi Asomugha.