Professional Athletes and Crime

Despite the fact that they are some of the highest-paid professionals in the world, it seems like professional athletes have a problem with criminal activity. Many people argue why this is the case. If a person makes millions of dollars a year playing a sport he loves, why would he risk everything on a random criminal act? The answer is multifaceted. Some athletes who engage in criminal activity do so for the thrills, others because they feel untouchable due to their superstar status. Some argue that the pressure to perform lends itself to psychological decline in some professional athletes.


Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez recently committed suicide in prison after receiving a murder conviction. Quarterback Michael Vick faced legal action for participating in illegal dog fights. Double-amputee and South African runner Oscar Pistorius set records in both the regular and Special Olympics before murdering his supermodel girlfriend. Several members of the Penn State football coaching staff went to jail for pedophilia and child molestation charges. Olympic swimming superstar Michael Phelps faced media scrutiny and lost sponsorships after a video surfaced showing Phelps taking a hit of marijuana from a bong at a house party.

These are just a few of the most well-known examples. Many other professional athletes have gotten in trouble for crimes including drug possession , domestic violence , assault, drunk driving , and even gross public lewdness. Players in several professional sports have also violated their respective leagues’ policies regarding doping and steroid use.


Clinical psychologists and criminal researchers point to narcissism as a major contributing factor in the apparent trend of professional athletes engaging in criminal activities. Similar findings apply to high-powered public officials, politicians, and business leaders found involved in criminal acts. Once a person achieves profound success, he or she may begin to feel as though the typical rules for behavior no longer apply, or that they can simply get away with these acts because of who they are.

Professional athletes – even rookies – often make millions of dollars each year. With that much money, why even bother with the risk of crime? Some researchers suggest that the thrill is more important to the offender than the result. Additionally, many professional athletes may not feel the same degree of risk a typical person would in the same situation. When you have easy access to tremendous wealth, legal fees aren’t as much of a concern.

One of the most important factors in these cases is the pressure these professional athletes experience. While this does not excuse criminal behavior, it may provide insights to those wondering why an athlete would engage in such actions. Constant media scrutiny, viral social media interactions, and high-speed news cycles are all sources of significant social pressure for professional sports stars. Eventually, the attention and pressure may cause psychological problems that lead to criminal behavior.


Whatever the case may be, a professional athlete who engages in criminal behavior stands to lose everything in the face of the justice system. Legal fees can total in the millions, and the league in which the athlete plays may suspend the player or even terminate the player’s contract. Most professional athletes’ contracts include specific clauses for conduct. Additionally, most athletes receive sponsorships from different businesses that often pay large sums for the athletes to support their brands. It’s not uncommon for sponsors to drop athletes who commit crimes.

While it may seem like athletes committing crimes is an ongoing, prevalent trend, this perception could be due to the massive media attention these situations typically receive. Ultimately, the reasons behind these acts vary on an individual basis, but it’s safe to assume a privileged life of wealth and constant media attention creates opportunities for professional athletes to break the law.