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Is MLS really crime-free and why?

Major League Soccer maintains a reasonable record of league players not finding themselves in criminal situations of their own doing. What possible reasons might there be for such a good record of criminal activity (or a lack thereof)? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has helped the league maintain a good criminal record.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has helped the league maintain a good criminal record.

Before getting too far in this reading, the following is an opinion piece meant to encourage debate on the topic of crime and professional athletes. Specifically, why do the NFL, NBA and MLB have more players convicted of crimes than MLS?

Houston Dynamo fans recently rejoiced when news reached them that the charges against Tyler Deric were completely settled. The charges stemmed from an unfortunate event February 4, 2012 at the Roosevelt Lounge. That night, a group including Warren Creavalle and Deric attempted to gain admittance to the Lounge. They were refused by a Lounge door employee for the alleged reason that there were already "too many black guys" in the club.

Deric, outraged, engaged in a verbal altercation with the employee. Houston Police Officer Ramon Perez confronted the group with his baton. Deric and Creavalle departed, but were followed by Perez. A second dispute occurred when the pursuing Perez tazed Deric, which Creavalle captured on his video camera. For this, both players were arrested.

Charges against Creavalle, for interference, and those against Deric have been dropped. Deric’s suing of the Roosevelt Lounge for the accused racial prejudice at the door resulted in a monetary settlement and a written letter of apology.

It’s refreshing to hear news of a professional athlete standing up against racial bigotry. Deric embodied MLS’ well known "Don’t Cross the Line" campaign against prejudice of race and sexual orientation. This sterling example of justice in sports is a welcome contrast to the recent debate about professional athletes and criminal convictions.

Lest anyone think I am saying all athletes are future criminals, there are countless examples of professional athletes that are model human beings. I have only glowing praise for the wonderful athletes who spearhead charities (Brian Ching), participate in Make a Wish Foundation (John Cena) and in general give themselves to others (Ronaldo paying for the cancer treatment and operations of two of his young fans). This article is merely about the ones giving those like Deric and Creavalle a bad name.

It doesn’t take an onerous amount of web browsing to bring to mind the myriad professional athletes recently convicted of violent crime. According to Wikipedia, the number of MLS athletes getting into serious trouble is far lower than other sports.

Stretching back around twenty years, the NFL has had over 30 athletes convicted (not counting charges dropped). These notorious athletes (some still playing) include O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick, Keith Wright, and Robert Rozier. Author Justin Peters estimated that at one point "21 of 32 NFL teams... had employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record" and that "2 percent of rostered NFL players in 2012 have been charged with an intimate violence crime".

Over 20 MLB players were convicted of various crimes. The NBA has fared a bit better with over 14 athletes serving time for convictions.

In comparison, the number of MLS players convicted is practically nonexistent. Although soccer players in foreign leagues have faced criminal charges, MLS players have been slow to join their ranks.

I don’t confess to be knowledgeable in criminal studies.

**My opinions are my own and I would rather raise several possible points and encourage debate in the commentary section than make a definitive answer.

Why does this difference in statistics between MLS and other sports exist? Here are some possible explanations that serve as food for thought.


Among the four major sports entities I have mentioned in this article (NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS), MLS players receive the lowest monetary compensation for their efforts. In 2011, a NFL rookie received a minimum of $375,000 a year. During the same year, an NBA rookie would hope to receive a minimum of $473,604 and a MLB player $414,000. In comparison, the minimum salary of a MLS player in 2011 was a paltry $42,000 a year. Does wealth lead to a personality prone to crime or is it that people prone to crime gravitate to leagues that pay in large amounts?

Socio-economic Status

Bringing up this point may entirely oppose the one above to a certain degree. If you believe an abundance of money leads to higher crime statistics, you may not see eye to eye with this point of consideration. The larger leagues of the NFL and the NBA tend to draw from players of lower socio-economic status. Soccer tends to appeal to players of middle to upper economic status. There are exceptions to anything, of course. Does a poorer background make a difference in crime statistics? Many studies suggest that there is a strong correlation.


Professional athletes tend to receive star treatment. This varies depending on the league, of course. Athletes are given complimentary gear and perks such as tickets to games, concerts, etc. Does this lead to a feeling of superiority? It’s my own opinion that NBA and NFL players are at a slightly different level than MLB and MLS players when it comes to star power. A person on the street may be far more likely to recognize a pro basketball or football player than a soccer player.

Age of Players

There is a strong correlation between crime and youth. For many types of crimes committed (shoplifting, vandalism and drug use) a person is most likely to offend between the ages of 17-25. After that, the age-crime curve decreases. Athletes in general have a narrow window of opportunity where they are at their prime. For many, this means being thrust into the spotlight before they have the maturity to cope with it. Youth are more prone to acts of immaturity, even more so when coupled with little supervision and an abundance of funding at their disposal. The NFL allows players to come out as early as their junior year of college. The average age of NFL players is a mere 25. Basketball players as young as 19 may be drafted into the NBA, with the average age of all players being roughly 26. The majority of soccer players drafted into the MLS have completed all four years of college, giving them enough time to play competitively through the collegiate system. The average age of MLS players is roughly 28, with four teams having an average age of 29.

Number of players

The number of players in the MLS is simply lower than the other leagues. Football rosters employ up to 53 players per team with 32 teams. That accounts for roughly 1,696 players. 30 MLB teams may support 25 players apiece, making 750 players. NBA teams may carry from 12-15 players apiece, making a maximum player count 450. In contrast, the MLS can carry 20 senior roster players (not including developmental players). Not counting Orlando and NYC, that makes a grand total of 380 players. Teams with greater numbers are bound to have more criminals, statistically speaking.

Youth of the league

In the same way that a larger number of players may affect statistics so too does the age of a league. MLS is relatively young in comparison to the NBA, MLB and NFL. The NFL is approaching its 100 year anniversary. It was established in 1920. MLB is even older. It consists of the AL and NL, which were established in 1901 and 1876, respectively. The NBA was formed much later in 1946. In contrast, MLS is a youngster. Soccer has gone through various forms in the United States and made several unsuccessful pitches at professional growth. MLS was created only in 1993. Some may argue that when you have a league as old as MLB, it’s only natural that you will have a few bad apples over the course of 140 years. With such a short history, perhaps it’s only natural MLS would have fewer criminal athletes. Will it boast such a short criminal record 100 years from now?


Some sports are more violent than others. Although violence is inherent on some level in all sports, there is no comparison between MMA and soccer. Do more violent sports boast more criminal players? If this were true, you would be more likely to find higher statistics among boxing and football than track and tennis. What do you think?

Have I overlooked something? I highly encourage you to leave your thoughts below to participate in this discussion.

Editor's Note:

Thanks to someone with a far deeper understanding of criminal justice and the system by which our country adheres, I wanted to add the following addendums to the piece above.

In the piece, Talley stated, "Houston Dynamo fans recently rejoiced when news reached them that the charges against Tyler Deric had been completely settled." The reference in the piece was in light of the recent dismissal of the suit against Tyler Deric (civil suit) brought by Officer Perez.

As Nigel Brooks stated, the civil suit and criminal charges are two separate processes, and the criminal charges were dropped as a NO BILL by the Grand Jury back in October 2012, which was an astounding 18 months ago. The civil suit, however, remained, and upon receiving the No Bill, or shortly thereafter, Tyler Deric entered a counter-suit against Officer Perez and Ferguson, then eventually adding Roosevelt Lounge as a third party in the suit alleging negligent hiring and defamation.

Also, we have changed the headline to more closely resemble the subject matter.