Athletes and DWI Charges

November 6th, 2012

The University of Minnesota has found itself on the receiving end of a lot of unwanted attention related to members of its men’s basketball team . Within the past few weeks, the program dealt with two such issues. One involved the player Trevor Mbakwe, who avoided being sentenced to jail time while another incident involved the arrest of the team’s assistant coach Saul Smith, son of head coach, Tubby Smith.

According to police records, Saul Smith’s blood alcohol concentration was .18 at the time of his arrest, or more than double Minnesota’s legal limit. For his part, Mbakwe managed to avoid a jail sentence and was instead placed on two years probation for a DWI he received over the summer.

Though the two events have been news in Minneapolis, those who follow sports closely have likely heard many similar stories of athletes, whether professional or amateur, that have imbibed and then jumped behind the wheel. Given how often the media blasts headlines of badly behaved athletes, some might wonder just how deserved the wild reputation is. One sports website, SB Nation, decided to see whether there is any truth to the charge that athletes are more prone to drunk driving than other people and stumbled upon some interesting information.

The researchers used data gathered from the FBI and other public databases and compared the DWI/DUI records of professional athletes across a variety of sports with the overall rate for drivers in the United States. The numbers showed that the overall arrest rate for U.S. drivers in the past year is 1 in 149. NFL players were slightly less likely to be picked up for drunk driving, with an arrest rate of 1 in 160. The news was even better for professional baseball and basketball players. The NBA saw an arrest rate of 1 in 237.5 while the MLB only had 1 player in 433 arrested for drunk driving, a figure three times below the national average.

The data gathered by SB Nation clearly reveals that professional athletes have a lower and, sometimes significantly lower, arrest rates than the general public. The notion of wild athletes has more to do with obsessive media coverage than it does with reality. The people arrested are famous and newspapers like covering the scandal.

Though their arrest rate is lower, the fact is it should be. Athletes, whether professional or amateur, have opportunities available to them that most normal people do not. There are plenty of people without enough money to spare for a cab, let alone a limo that could ferry them home from bars. Many teams offer a safe ride program created specifically to avoid such legal problems. Athletes have friends and networks of support built into their schools or professional organizations, with an army of people who would happily come help if they were asked.

It’s a tragedy that people with so many opportunities can still make such poor decisions. It makes it easier to understand how an ordinary person, without the benefit of an entourage, personal assistant or team limo service might run into similar problems with the law.

Source:Minnesota AD says Saul Smith DWI ‘embarrassing’,” by The Associated Press, published at SportsIllustrated.com.

Source:Are Pro Athletes More Likely To Get Arrested For DUI?,” by Jon Bois, published at SBNation.com.

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