Thinking Outside the Batter's Box: MLB head and shoulders above big, bad NFL when it comes to player behavior


Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

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Thinking Outside The Batter's Box is a blog about baseball published every week.
Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

by Jacob Gurvis
The headlines throughout sports this week are not pretty. Child abusers, wife beaters, substance abusers. The list goes on. But wait, aren’t all those things that happened in the National Football League? Huh. Interesting.
A couple days ago I tried to watch the news. On CNN, there was coverage of the Ray Rice scandal, being covered by Anderson Cooper and two law experts. On MSNBC, there was coverage of the Adrian Peterson scandal. Yesterday, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for alleged aggravated assault, and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was placed on the exempt list after being found guilty of assault. Everywhere you look, the NFL is making negative news. Baseball? Crickets.
While football is dealing with the Rice and Peterson debacles and all the public calls for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s resignation, the biggest news story in baseball this past week regarding player behavior is Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon getting a fine and seven-game suspension for making an obscene gesture at fans. Papelbon grabbed his crotch at fans? Wow MLB has some serious problems, right?
Sure, Orioles slugger Chris Davis got a 25-game suspension last week for violating the substance policy. But the story gained no traction. And if you look into the incident, it makes sense. In 2013, Davis had medicinal and league permission to take Adderall. This season, that permission was not renewed, but Davis continued to take Adderall. So this isn’t a player taking steroids. No biggie.
This week baseball is dealing with the crazy Papelbon and amiable Davis, who took his suspension, apologized, and is not making a big to-do. Recently, the contrast between issues in the MLB and NFL are somewhat comical. And while the NFL generally has more issues with player behavior, the MLB is planning to meet with the Players’ Union this week to address the issue of domestic abuse.
In an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Commissioner Bud Selig said, “I constantly say that baseball is a social institution with very important social responsibilities. Domestic violence is one of the one worst forms of societal conduct. We understand the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so.”
So while its not currently a blaring issue in baseball, the league is still making efforts to ensure that it doesn’t become more of a problem. And this isn’t the first time baseball has been proactive and ahead of the game (pun intended).
Every league eventually has its issues. From 1972-1995, baseball had seven strikes and/or stoppages of play due to disagreement. So no, the MLB is not perfect. But the league had its lockouts and such over 20 years ago, and other leagues had them much more recently. The NHL cancelled all of the 2004-2005 season, and had a shortened 2012-1013 season. The NBA had a shortened season in 2011, and the NFL had a five-month lockout in 2011, and a four-month referee strike in 2012. So while the NHL, NBA, and NFL had their lockouts in the last few years, baseball officials and the Players’ Union met under the radar in 2011, and agreed on a new, five-year bargaining agreement, ensuring at least five-more lockout-free years. The MLB learns from other leagues’ (and its own) mistakes.
Dozens of studies have been done on the arrest rates and trends for each professional league. According to, which published an article on September 15th on this topic, the NFL and NBA have arrest rates significantly higher than the MLB and NHL. In their study, they found that over a five-year average, the NHL has 175 arrests, MLB has 552, NBA has 2,157, and the NFl tops the list with 2,466. So yes, baseball isn’t the bottom of the list, but it’s also nowhere near the top. The domestic abuse arrest averages are just as telling. The NHL has 38, MLB has 43, NFL has 241, and NBA has 412. So while these trends may seem more extreme due to the last couple weeks, they also have been consistent for many years. Baseball in general has fewer arrests than football. That is a fact.
What’s the moral of the story? I’m not saying we should all boycott the NFL. I still love football, and watch games every week. However, it is important to understand the actions of each league. Obviously no league supports domestic abuse or pushes their players to misbehave or cheat. But some leagues respond well and take action to prevent players from doing bad things. And others are the NFL. And that is important to note.
I may have a bias because I love baseball. But sports fan or not, it is important to see these leagues as institutions for a moment, and realize that they have a large impact on our country, and especially on young people. So go on rooting for the Patriots or whatever team you root for. I know I will. Just understand who, and more importantly, what, you may be supporting.