Will the NFL Lockout Lead to Increase in Crime?

In an interview with ESPN that aired over the weekend, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said that if the NFL lockout results in a lost season, crime rates will increase. “Watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game,” Lewis told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio. Pressed to explain why, Lewis replied, “There’s nothing else to do Sal.”

Are Americans really so addicted to professional football that its absence will lead people to go on some kind of crime rampage? Or, as Lewis seems to be implying, is it such a potent distraction that it keeps us occupied, and our violent tendencies sated? Better to watch Troy Polamalu knock a guy unconscious than doing it yourself. By that logic, crime rates should increase once the season’s over.

The NFL lockout does seem to be leading to an increase in criminal behavior among one demographic: NFL players. According to the Grio.com’s John Mitchell, arrests among NFL players have spiked during the lockout this spring.

We’ve written about the relationship between sports and crime a number of times, including here, when Dubner took on French political scientist Sebastien Roche and his theory that sport causes crime. More recently, Freakonomics contributor Justin Wolfers reported on a study showing that crime rates spike during college football game days:

[The authors’] findings are quite striking, and they report large rises in assaults, vandalism, and disorderly conduct on game days. As might be expected, this effect is large in the city of the home team, but basically non-existent in the city of the visitors.You might be worried that this rise in arrests reflects more police on the street on game day (and hence more arrests per crime), rather than simply more crime. But the authors provide a clever response, noting that upset losses by the home team have a particularly large effect on violent assaults, while expected losses have little effect. Unless police chiefs are also successfully forecasting football outcomes, it seems that this alternative explanation doesn’t hold water.

Obviously, sport was at the heart of the recent case of Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who was severely beaten by Dodger fans after an Opening Day game in L.A.

So, what do you think?

[poll id=”5″]


I think Ray Ray's theory is interesting: at the very minimum, a lot of American males keep occupied on Sundays by watching football. If we didn't have football, or something to take its place, we'd have to find something else to do. I'd like to think that I will certainly not turn to crime, but I can imagine that some places could have increased rates.

But there are places that will have significantly decreased crime rates, like whatever districts the stadiums themselves are in -- I've seen many many violent and illegal acts at tailgates, during the game, and post-game. Downtown Cleveland and Philly must be 10x worse on gamedays than every other day... so I think Ray's underestimating the amount of violence DUE to football.


Crime rate increase during home college football game cities? Uh, yeah...you have to mention alcohol as the major contributing factor. Younger demographic, much higher attendance and more non-drivers than at NFL (or really any other sports) leads to a lot more drinking. Upset by the home team? More reason to party.


I can see this happening in certain cities. Check out what happened in Baltimore when Comcast turned off the "free cable" and required everyone to have a digital cable box. Shootings and homicides went up pretty noticeably... which, to be honest, is a significant uptick in Baltimore, a city known for its' violence.

Chris Mendelsohn

I think what Ray Lewis meant was that he would commit more crimes if he doesn't have the season to control his behavior. I don't think it will change other criminals behaviors, other then those that play on Sundays.

John Johnson

Only a criminal would think the first thing someone would d if they didn't have a distraction is commit more crimes. Sounds like you're threatening us Ray. Are you?


It seems likely that there is less crime associated with NFL games than NCAA football games (college games are on Saturday, there are more games, the rivalries are more impassioned); the primary causal relationship I think plausible is that, due to the loss of the NFL, fans who would otherwise have ignored the NCAA start watching college games.

Assuming that the marginal fan thus transferring attention is more prone to criminal activity than the average NFL-only fan, increased participation in the higher-crime environment of NCAA football could increase crime associated with college football games more than the decrease of crime associated with the (now-absent) NFL.

Mark West

A thug is a thug is a thug. Whether they are making millions on 20 Sundays for their violence, or simply robbing the local Stop 'n' Shop. The brains of people of this ilk are what Conceal and Carry is all about.

And just what did Lewis mean by "our game"? I and millions of others can think it, but don't by God say it. Oh, yeah....a punk is a punk is a punk.

miles b

Ray Lewis was kinda misquoted here. During the interview he is not just talking about fans but the people that work at the stadiums and the non-millionaires that work within the NFL. His logic is that they are being put out of work based upon the egos of people who are already well off and that the lockout is happening because the people facilitating it do not have much money to lose. There is a definite possibility that that could lead to an increase in violence! Ray Lewis is a genius!

Impossibly Stupid

Isn't this akin to the flawed "Amoral Atheist" argument? How can you expect people to be good without X? Just because the X here is sports instead of religion doesn't make the reasoning any less suspect.

There is also the amusing, tacit admission that he thinks that most NFL fans are little more than criminals lying in wait. For all the flaws inherent in human nature, I don't think that most people are like that. Like Ron Paul asked about drugs earlier this month: "if we legalize heroin tomorrow, is everyone is going use heroin?" No, and likewise the loss of sports won't create criminals either.


If crime doesn't increase, perhaps attendance at churches will as more men pray for the lockout to end (and end soon)!


I think you are taking Ray Lewis' quote out of context. He was referring to all the people who work supporting the games... ushers, equipment staff, ticket takers, janitors at the stadiums, etc. If there's no football, these people won't be getting paid. His point is they will be more likely to be driven to crime.

Impossibly Stupid

I don't see how that paints the comment in any better of a light. Saying all the support staff is nothing but a bunch of criminals probably isn't going to be well received by anyone, either. To that point, what evidence is there that crime rates are tied to unemployment rates? I would expect there might be some, but I also expect they would be largely offset in areas that have social programs that reduce the need to become a criminal just to survive.


Is Ray Lewis saying that, in the absence of an NFL season, crime will increase because the pro footballers won't have anything to do and will turn to crime?


Here in the Philippines, whenever Manny Pacquiao has a boxing match, the crime rate for that day is zero. I guess it just shows that even criminals are sports fans too. I'm not saying that boxing is similar to NFL but I think having something interesting and exciting to watch on TV discourages criminals to do bad stuff on that day, but maybe they would on another day.

Miley Cyrax

I would venture that attention paid to the NFL is negatively correlated with income. So take away the circuses part of bread and circuses, and it's only natural that you get more crime.


@Impossibly Stupid - I wasn't saying I agree with Lewis. I was just clarifying what he meant, having heard the actual interview, and thus knowing that it differed from how the Freakonomics guys interpreted it.

Impossibly Stupid

I wasn't saying you agreed, just that the clarification itself didn't improve the context of Lewis' comment. Whether he thinks the fans are latent criminals or just that the staff hired by the NFL are, it still reflects his mindset more than reality. Smacks of transference, which is why you see all the "joking" comments about how the players themselves are more likely to be the worst criminal offenders.


Interesting theory, however, the only demographic to have increased crime would be the players themselves. One would think that game day would lead to higher crime rates in the home town with all the boozing people do before during and after games.


I think there is the possibility for increases in crime within certain demographics and for certain crimes. It is plausible that certain people who would normally be occupied throughout the day sunday and monday evening will be seeking alternative forms of entertainment, and some of them could turn to crime, however I find it unlikely. Any change in personal behaviour is

I do however think that any spike from crime could be poverty based. We have yet to see what economic effect suspending the football season will have on the employees of the stadium (usually low income families) and employees of local small businesses (bars, restaurants, merchandise vendors (again lower income families)). If the spike in poverty occurs among this demographic then it is completely plausible that these people could turn to crime as an alternative income source, increasing the overall crime rate for the area.

Will it be as dramatic as Ray Ray leads on? Not likely, however not necessarily inaccurate. Though I highly doubt he consider this when making the argument.


Big Bubba

I believe crime exists in the CBA contract, do these players, and owners understand who there fans are. Especially now in the economic times we are in. They are arguing about billions of dollars in pay, when the average fan is out of work, and the situation is getting worse. Do players have any understanding of the fans, these guys get millions of dollars, and before their contract is up they want to renogiatie, hold out until the team pays them more because someone elses is getting paid more. I don't think these players have any idea of the average fan, or the price of tickets. It's vertually impossible for a person to take his family to a game. So yes the crime rate is up, and you're correct it's coming from the players and the owners. Once again taking it out on the average person, and fan of the NFL.