Athletes and Guns
by John R. Lott, Jr.
by John R. Lott, Jr.
Giant NFL players admitting they feel threatened by crime? This hardly fits their tough, macho image. Our concern is supposed to be for women walking alone at night.
But while the massive size and strength of NFL players might seem to make them unlikely victims, their wealth and high profiles nonetheless make them targets for violent criminals. Yet, crimes against professional athletes don't engender much sympathy or news coverage.
So, what do many NFL players do when they realize that their physical strength does not give them enough protection from violent crime? The same as many other would-be victims — they get guns. Well over 50 percent of NFL players are estimated to own guns. By contrast, about 45 percent of Americans generally own guns. Shortly before New Year's, the concern that a majority of NFL players actually own guns rated a news story in the politically correct New York Times.
Early in the morning on Jan. 21, Corey Fuller, the 5-foot, 10-inch, 210-pound defensive back for the Baltimore Ravens, was confronted by two armed robbers outside his Tallahassee house. One robber chased Fuller into his house where his wife and children were sleeping, but Fuller was able to grab a gun and fire at the attackers, who then ran away.
In late October, T.J. Slaughter, a 6-foot, 233-pound linebacker, was arrested for allegedly pointing a gun at motorists who pulled up next to him on the highway. Slaughter denied that he had pointed the gun at the motorists and claimed that they had threatened him. According to Slaughter, he told the men to move away from his car. No charges were filed, but the Jacksonville Jaguars still cut Slaughter the next day. Jacksonville claimed Slaughter was performing poorly.
Greg Anthony, a 6-foot, 176-pound guard for 12 years in the NBA, carried a registered gun during part of his career. He said, "More and more people approach you, and you just never know what somebody is capable of doing ... [Players] see carrying as a deterrent."
Well-known coaches, such as Barry Switzer and Bobby Knight, have also carried guns.
Recent media stories — from the New York Times to the Chicago Tribune — have run extremely negative stories on professional players owning guns. The Tribune described players owning guns as a "problem [that] persists." Ironically, within days of the December New York Times piece, it was revealed that the New York Times lets its reporters carry guns in Iraq.
With high profile basketball players including Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen having been arrested for illegal gun possession — as well as football players such as Alonzo Spellman and Damien Robinson — the issue of professional athletes and guns is often in the news, and this coverage helps form people's opinions. (Though, in all these cases, charges were eventually dropped.)
There are no systematic numbers on the crimes committed against professional athletes, but anecdotal stories abound, proving that professional athletes' physical strength hardly makes them immune to crime. Take a couple additional examples.
- Yancy Thigpen (search) of the Tennessee Titans (height: 6-1, weight: 203 lbs.) has faced three armed robberies since joining the NFL eight years ago. The last one left him and his fiancée tied up inside his house with their 2-month old daughter locked in a closet. An earlier robbery involved a carjacking.
- Will Allen of the New York Giants (height: 5-10, weight: 195 lbs.) was assaulted, doused with gasoline and robbed by an assailant when he returned to his house one evening in 2001.
Unfortunately all of the nation's four leading pro sports leagues — the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball — trivialize the athletes' concerns over safety. The NFL's official advice: "In some circumstances, such as for sport or protection, you may legally possess a firearm or other weapon. However, we strongly recommend that you not do so." The league advocates passive behavior when confronted by a criminal.
Such misguided advice simply makes players and their families more vulnerable and does not square with the U.S. Department of Justice's findings. Take robbery or assault. The Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for decades that providing no self-protection is by far the most likely to result in injury. Even actions other than carrying a weapon, such as screaming or trying to attract attention, are safer than passive behavior.
The NFL has gone so far as to conduct annual seminars for their athletes on firearms, stressing the risks to children of guns and the risks of having a gun in a car. The teams have forbidden players from having guns with them at stadiums or while traveling on League-related business, but this leaves players who obey the rules as sitting ducks before or after games.
Indeed, the players who violate the rules are probably doing their teammates a favor because they at least create some uncertainty in criminals' minds about whether a player can protect himself. Yet, the league's sanctions make players reticent to talk about defensive gun uses.
Even professional athletes are not supermen. T.J. Slaughter expresses no regrets for having a gun despite running afoul of political correctness and being cut by the Jaguars. He said. "I believe legally owning a gun is the right thing to do. It offers me protection. I think one day it could save my life." It seems a lesson that many who are not quite as strong can learn from.
January 29, 2004
John Lott [send him mail], a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has advised both the Airline Pilots Security Alliance and the Allied Pilots Association on security issues. He is the author of The Bias Against Guns (Regnery 2003).
Copyright © 2004 John Lott