While cases such as the Trayvon Martin shooting and the controversy over New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy have cast a spotlight on racial disparities in the U.S. law enforcement and justice systems, a new investigation by national newspaper USA Today shows that even NFL players are not immune from such racial imbalances.
In fact, the paper found, black NFL players are more likely to be arrested than white players by a factor of 10 to 1. That disparity is far greater than the proportion of black players to white players, and those of other ethnicities, in the league. Approximately two of every three NFL players are black.
USA Today looked at 687 player arrests over the past 14 years. The paper found that 607 of those, 88 percent, involved black players.
Of those 687 arrests, 294 came as a result of traffic stops. Of those traffic stop arrests, 260 involved black players.
Police say that those numbers have nothing to do with race and that, in fact, officers usually cannot see the skin color of a person when they make the decision to execute a traffic stop. Instead, officers make that decision based on driver behavior.
"Racial profiling is bad police work," Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations told the paper. “Situational profiling is good police work."
But civil rights advocates and players say the role of racial profiling cannot be ignored.
"It's safe to say that goes on," Kenny Britt, a wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans, said. "Because people are human, and it is not just policemen. You can't just say it's cops. But they make their own judgments, and some of them use their power. It definitely makes you leery about where you go and who is watching for you. "
Britt (pictured) has been pulled over four times since 2010. One was a drunken driving charge, another for eluding police. The other two were for driver’s license issues.
The USA Today study did not include players who were stopped but nor arrested.
“The white community is not fully sensitized to how big of an issue this (racial profiling) is," said Cyrus Mehri, a Washington, D.C., attorney who studies racial bias. "The best thing we can do as a country is to talk about it and deal with it than to sweep it under the rug."
Some NFL players, however, are fighting back by filming police on smartphones.
“I let it (the phone) sit there and said loud and clear, 'I don't drink; I don't smoke; I don't have a weapon in my car. You didn't tell me why you pulled me over,’” Arizona Cardinals lineman Darnell Dockett told USA Today, describing a 2011 traffic stop. "He knew the video was going. They stayed there for about 30 minutes, and I guess they had to go. He said, 'You can leave.'"
SOURCES: USA Today (2) (3)