Last month , Ray Lewis , the perennial All-Pro linebacker from the Baltimore Ravens predicted that if the NFL labor dispute results in a lockout there will be an uptick in the number of crimes . “Do this research,” Lewis told ESPN. “If we don’t have a season, watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game.” He was speaking , of course , of crimes committed by disgruntled fans , not by the locked out players .
I only heard of Lewis’ prediction last week when it was one of the lead stories on Yahoo Sports . My first reaction was a horse laugh ; then I remembered a chapter from Freakonomics , a fascinating book by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner which I happen to be reading. In it , the authors offer a novel explanation for the drop in crime rate experienced by major urban centers in the late nineties. Most experts attribute the decline in crime to factors such as Innovative policing strategies , stiffer prison sentences , changes in drug markets , tougher gun control laws , a strong economy or increased police presence . Levitt and Dubner convincingly argue that the experts are mistaken . They show with the use of statistics that the lowered crime rate was a consequence of legalized abortion laws. They postulate that this resulted in a rise in the number of abortions and thus to a decrease in the number of children born to poor , single mothers . It is these children who are most likely to resort to crime . Ergo , a decrease in their numbers led to fewer crimes being committed.
So rather than dismiss Lewis ‘ pronouncement out-of-hand I decided to give it a little more thought . “Could the lack of NFL football really result in a crime wave ?” I asked myself .
Crime stats don’t support such a conclusion .
1) The Baltimore Sun did some research and found that in n 1982 , when the NFL games were suspended for two months because of a labor dispute , the number of crimes actually was less than those that occurred the previous year .Furthermore , the Sun found that crime in the four weeks before last season was essentially at the same levels as during the first four weeks of the season . After the season ended , crime levels actually fell slightly compared to those during the season.
2) During the Ravens bye week there was a slight uptick during the bye week . Conversely during the Falcons bye week , crime actually declined .
3) Another study by Northeastern University professor James A. Fox examined key FBI data from 2006 through 2008, focusing on the week before the Super Bowl because there were no games that week and there was intense interest in football around that time of the year. He found no increase in crime the week there was no football.
For those who argue that these studies are not scientific , I would retort that they are more trustworthy than Ray Lewis ‘ unsupported opinion.
It is true that are many factors that impact the crime rate . To mention only one of them : Crime is usually higher in the summer months when temperatures rise and people have more time on their hands . In winter , conversely , when people are inside trying to stay warm there is a drop in the crime rate .
It may be true that “ An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” but it is simplistic to argue that not being able to watch NFL football will drive more people to crime . After all , NFL football is not the only game in town . There are college football and basketball , NBA basketball , the NHL and a number of other outlets for people’s time and energy.
I wouldn’t want to say this to him face-to- face but if Ray thinks that an NFL lockout will lead to increased crime , he’s got rocks in his head.
The FBI says crime typically decreases during football season, but it doesn’t see a correlation, according to a newspaper account provided to us by the Sport in Society center. The FBI believes criminals prefer to strike when the weather is warmer.
Some current and former NFL players have argued Lewis has a point, including his quarterback, Joe Flacco.
One criminologist we interviewed had a different take.
“I took the Ray Lewis challenge and I don’t see any evidence of [a crime increase],” said Fox, the author of several books on crime who also writes a crime and punishment blog for the Boston Globe.