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This is the Week In Data, our data journalism roundup. Here you’ll find the most-read FiveThirtyEight articles of the past week, as well as gems we spotted elsewhere on the Internet.


  1. NBA Power Ratings And Playoff Odds: Playoff Power!
  2. A Simple, Knicks-Proof Proposal To Improve The NBA’s Draft Lottery
  3. 2015 NBA Playoffs Preview
  4. Should You Get Married (Or Divorced) For Tax Reasons?
  5. Troy Polamalu Was Once On Track To Be In The ‘Greatest Safety Ever’ Conversation
  6. The Red Sox Are On The Wildest Roller-Coaster Ride In Modern MLB History
  7. Jordan Spieth Played A Great Masters, And So Did The Rest Of The Field
  8. The Rays’ Radical Reliever Experiment
  9. Clinton Begins The 2016 Campaign, And It’s A Toss-up
  10. Don’t Be So Happy About That Tax Refund


Soft, stretchy sweatpants: A survey of 6,200 American teenagers found that jeans are on their way out — they’re being replaced by “athleisure,” the marketing term for trouser-wear that doesn’t need unbuttoning at the dining table. [Quartz]


The bank that creates poverty: After months spent investigating the World Bank, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists uncovered evidence that the organization has badly failed on its promises to protect the poor. They estimate that 3.4 million people were displaced from their homes as a result of projects financed by the bank between 2004 and 2013. Along with their in-depth reporting on the harmful projects and the communities affected, the ICIJ also shared some of the data behind the investigation. [ICIJ]

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Marital tax: When married Americans file their tax returns, it can be hard to predict whether they’re going to pay a penalty or receive a bonus. With these interactive calculators, you can enter your and your spouse’s salaries to see how you fare (it varies a bit by whether or not you have any kids). You can also try this equally brilliant version by our very own Ritchie King. [The Upshot]

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There’s never been a better time to be a worried parent: Whether you’re concerned about your child going missing, being struck by a car or dying before her fourth birthday, look at the data — it all suggests children in America are safer than ever before. [Wonkblog]

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Your 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents: This exploration of genealogy is more than a year old, but I only just spotted it this week after Max Roser tweeted about it. Tim Urban goes back 12 generations to take a look at the 4,096 human beings who were your great10 grandparents. He also explains the cousin formula (warning: you may have kissed someone you’re related to). [Wait But Why]


The two-year campaign: Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination 576 days before Americans will vote for president. It wasn’t always this way. [The Upshot]

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Thousands of fatal shootings, 54 officers charged: Compiling cases of police shootings is a painstaking task. The Washington Post teamed up with Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip M. Stinson to do it. They found that prosecutions in such cases were incredibly rare, and that there were stark racial trends: “In three-quarters of the reviewed cases, the race of the charged officer was white. Of those, two-thirds shot and killed a black person. In none of the cases did a black officer fatally shoot a white person.” [The Washington Post]

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A steady climb: This article looks at several aspects of New York City’s cycling infrastructure, based on some new statistics from the city’s transportation department that are pretty fascinating: The number of commuters on bikes has quadrupled since 2002. [CityLab]


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Our NBA playoff projections, which are based on a version of Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi’s Real Plus-Minus ratings (RPM), give the Golden State Warriors a 48 percent chance of winning the NBA title. Other statistical systems hold the Dubs in similarly high regard: The playoff probabilities at give them a 47 percent chance of winning a ring, and John Hollinger’s playoff odds put their chances at 38 percent.

Gambling markets are more skeptical of Golden State. According to PredictWise, which compiles odds from Betfair and removes the “vig” (house cut), bettors have the Warriors with a 27 percent chance to win the title. And a number of sportsbooks consider LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers to be the title favorites.


So here’s a gut-check. The Warriors, with a 67-15 regular-season record, are the top overall seed and will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. How often does the top overall seed1 win the title?

The answer — since the NBA expanded the playoffs to 16 teams in 1984 — is 45 percent of the time, almost exactly the chances RPM assigns to the Warriors. The top seed has won 14 titles in 31 attempts.

1996 Bulls 72-10
1997 Bulls 69-13
1986 Celtics 67-15
1992 Bulls 67-15
2000 Lakers 67-15
2007 Mavericks 67-15
2008 Celtics 66-16
2009 Cavaliers 66-16
2013 Heat 66-16
1987 Lakers 65-17
2006 Pistons 64-18
1985 Celtics 63-19
1989 Pistons 63-19
1990 Lakers 63-19
1991 Blazers 63-19
1994 Sonics 63-19
2012 Spurs 50-16
1984 Celtics 62-20
1988 Lakers 62-20
1993 Suns 62-20
1995 Spurs 62-20
1998 Jazz* 62-20
2005 Suns 62-20
2011 Bulls 62-20
2014 Spurs 62-20
2002 Kings 61-21
2004 Pacers 61-21
2010 Cavaliers 61-21
1999 Spurs 37-13
2003 Spurs 60-22
2001 Spurs 58-24

And the Warriors, with 67 wins, are better than your average top seed. Since 1984, nine other top seeds have finished within two games of the Warriors’ regular-season win total (somewhere between 65 and 69 wins). Those teams went 7 for 9 in winning titles. In contrast to the single-elimination NCAA basketball tournament, the best-of-seven format in the NBA playoffs has historically allowed elite teams to rise to the top.

We certainly do not recommend you naively trust statistical systems ahead of the handicappers. Vegas is really tough to beat. Gamblers can account for all the information in systems like RPM — plus whatever other data they think is relevant, like postseason experience or how teams match up with one another or the San Antonio Spurs beating the odds again and again.

Still, we’re a little more likely to give credence to complex systems like RPM when they’re also able to pass simple gut-checks like this one.

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In his State of the Union speech in January, President Obama announced a new proposal to make two years of community college free “for responsible students across America.” Many educators praised it as a way to prepare many more students for a demanding job market, but a survey released Friday suggests that most of them don’t believe it will ever happen.

The survey, conducted by Gallup and published by Inside Higher Ed, found that just 39 percent of community college presidents believe their state legislature is likely to support the plan, even with federal support. That number goes down to 13 percent if there is no new federal support.


The proposal would create a partnership between federal and state governments: Washington would cover three-quarters of “the average cost of community college” and states would fund the rest.

The pessimism of community college presidents, who often know their state’s political landscape quite well, doesn’t bode well for the success of the program. But the survey didn’t explain why these presidents feel the way they do.

In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, Zachary Hodges, the president of Houston Community College’s Northwest region, suggested that political spending battles in state legislatures could doom the idea.

“We certainly need more funding,” he said. “Workforce development is expensive. But where’s the money going to come from? I don’t want to get bogged down in the Texas state legislature about how we’re going to pay for this, especially if it’s at the expense of us doing what we do well.”

And he suggested that the president’s plan might not even be necessary or desirable.

“The government control would introduce a level of bureaucracy where our hands would be tied, and we wouldn’t be as nimble as we want to be,” he said. “We would lose our competitive advantage. Secondly, low tuition and scholarships for Houston Community College students ensure that students who are in need of assistance can get it.”

Based on data from the College Board, it does seem like community college is becoming increasingly affordable. While the published prices for tuition, fees, room and board have been increasing, the net price, which takes into account grant aid and tax benefits, has been declining since 2008.


“Personally — and this is just one community college president speaking — there’s a fear of giving up autonomy and the ability to respond quickly to the workforce community,” Hodges said, but he did concede that it’s important to have a policy discussion about the issue. “We need to continue talking about the importance of community colleges and finding more ways of funding community college and workforce development. That may include free tuition, but I’m not sure that can’t be done at a local level.”

For now, the White House is continuing to push the proposal, but will it be able to convince states to join the partnership? If community college presidents’ forecasts are accurate, it seems like the answer will be no.

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If you compare Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings to Jeb Bush’s, you’ll find what seems like a sign of impending doom for the Republican should he face her in the general election. Whereas Clinton’s favorability ratings are break-even,3 Bush’s are poor, with a 31 percent favorable rating and a 45 percent unfavorable rating.

Most of the time you’re better off ignoring these early polls. Some of this is on general principle: A lot can and will change between now and next November.

But there’s also a particular reason for Democrats not to get giddy about Bush’s polling: He’s a long way from winning the Republican nomination. In fact, his poor favorability ratings are in substantial part the result of his tepid support among fellow Republicans. Either Bush will become more popular among Republicans — or they won’t pick him. So citing his current favorability numbers as a general election weakness doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In the graphic below, I’ve listed current favorability ratings for Clinton, Bush and some other candidates (real and potential), broken out by party.4 As you can see, there’s very little support across party lines. Clinton and Joe Biden get terrible ratings among Republicans. None of the Republican candidates get much support among Democrats.


But whereas Clinton and Biden have stellar favorability ratings among fellow Democrats, Republicans are more critical of some of their candidates. As compared to Clinton’s 84 percent favorable rating within her party, Bush’s favorable rating is just 54 percent, with an unfavorable rating of 28 percent, among GOP voters. (It could be worse: Chris Christie’s favorability ratings are net-negative even within the GOP.)

But Republicans can afford to be picky with a deep and talented field of candidates. So one of two things is likely to happen between now and the time the general election race heats up:

  • Either Bush will gain enough support among Republicans to win the nomination, also boosting his favorability rating overall.
  • Or his lack of support among Republicans will prevent him from being picked. In that case, the relevant comparison is between Clinton and alternatives like Scott Walker or Marco Rubio (or even John Kasich). Walker’s and Rubio’s favorability ratings, like Clinton’s, are about break-even, although with much lower name recognition. Few pollsters have bothered to test Kasich’s numbers yet.

Perhaps there are some in-between cases — Bush emerges as the wounded nominee of the Republican Party. Especially in the early stages of the primary, the GOP candidates will be subject to attacks from their competitors, harming their image among some Republicans as they seek to endear themselves to others.

But even then, most Republicans will come around to the nominee at some point between the end of the primaries and the late stages of the general election. They did for Mitt Romney in 2012; he eventually won 93 percent of the GOP vote despite a sometimes bumpy road in the primaries.

Bush’s favorability ratings are also not very good among independents, at 29 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable. But Clinton’s aren’t much better: 41 percent favorable, 55 percent unfavorable. True, Democratic candidates can tolerate mediocre numbers among independents because there are usually more Democrats than Republicans in the electorate in presidential years. (In 2012, Obama won the overall popular vote by 4 percentage points despite losing independents by 5 percentage points.) So perhaps you can read a stalemate among independents as a good sign for Clinton.

But there’s no guarantee that things will stay that way. Bush, who has fairly moderate policy positions, should theoretically be a good fit for moderates in the electorate once they get to know him better. There’s more evidence that candidate ideology matters than that early-stage favorability ratings do.

Or perhaps Bush really is a dud of a candidate. Indeed, we at FiveThirtyEight are mildly bearish on Bush relative to the consensus. If he’s not able to make a good electability case — and his favorability ratings don’t help — Republicans have little reason to pick him ahead of alternatives who are closer to the base ideologically.

But it’s Bush’s nomination chances we’re bearish about — in many ways, the nomination is the tougher hurdle since it’s a multi-candidate race. In analyzing the general election race, it’s only the conditional probabilities that matter. If Bush is good enough to win the primary, he’s probably good enough to give Republicans about a 50-50 shot of winning next November.

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12 hours

Away messages are back! Facebook Messenger is adding the ability to set an away message for up to 12 hours. Remember, future tech titans: Imitating AOL is absolutely the route to success. [The Verge]

13 days

How long until NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, currently orbiting Mercury, has until it runs out of fuel and crashes into the aforementioned planet. The craft has been orbiting the Mercury since March 2011, but what will it do now that it knows the end is coming? Presumably on MESSENGER‘s bucket list is “continue orbiting Mercury” and not much else. [Discovery News]


Vote in the Tennessee State Senate to send a bill to make the Bible the official state book back to committee, effectively killing the proposal. (As if the state behind the Scopes “Monkey Trial” really needed to show the country it likes the bible.) [The Tennessean]

38 percent

Percentage of Americans who oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder, the highest level of opposition Pew’s observed since the 1970s. [Pew Research Center]

74 “lost” seasons

When a player leaves college early to join the NBA — as seven members of the University of Kentucky basketball team elected to do earlier this year — the school loses a year of production (that’s how the colleges see it, at least). Indeed, Kentucky has “lost” more seasons than any other Division I basketball program from players going pro, with 74 player-seasons “lost” since 1999. [ACC Sports]

78 years old

Sen. Pat Roberts has “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel from the film “Frozen” as his ringtone. It interrupted a Senate hearing. The septuagenarian is enjoying absurdly high approval ratings among local lifestyle reporters. [The Washington Post]

6240-6740 MHz

That’s the frequency used by both radio telescopes — which are used to plumb the depths of space, look back into time itself and understand man’s place in this ancient dusty abyss we call a universe — and new lawn-mowing Roombas, which mow your lawn because you’re lazy and terrible. This is a problem and our species will have to pick one or the other. [Wired]

2 million

Number of high school aged Americans who smoke electronic cigarettes, according to the CDC. For some reason, people seem to think that telling a bunch of teenagers an activity is potentially dangerous will make them stop doing it, a strategy that has never worked in the history of teenagers. [Bloomberg Business]

3.4 million

Number of people displaced though involuntary resettlement from 2004 to 2013 by World Bank projects. [The Huffington Post and ICIJ]

23 million

Estimated number of people who will take a cruise this year based on bookings data observed so far. [Bloomberg Business]

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P.P.S. Have a good weekend.

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The U.K. parliamentary elections are less than a month away. Maybe you’re a polling junkie when it comes to U.S. elections, and you’re starting to poke around U.K. polls? Maybe you’re a casual observer of elections in both countries, and you’re curious about when you should start paying attention to the U.K. polls?

The most important thing to know is that U.S. presidential elections are a lot more volatile than U.K. parliamentary elections. I collected data on the error rate of each individual U.K. national parliamentary poll and national U.S. presidential poll within a year of every election since 1979.7 For example, let’s say a U.K. survey showed the Conservatives with an 11 percentage point lead over Labour, but the Conservatives win by only 6 points. That poll has a 5 percentage point error.8


A year out from an American presidential election, we basically have no idea who is going to win. The error rate in the U.S. drops rapidly, though — from 13 percentage points 365 days out to about 7 points with 150 days left in the campaign. During that same period, the U.K. error rate drops from 9 percentage points to 7. Why are the U.K. election polls initially more accurate?

Presidential polls in the U.S. more often ask about the individual candidates than the parties. So U.S. polls early on are really tied to name recognition and less so to fundamental factors that affect election outcomes (such as the economy). Polls in the U.S. tend to converge with the fundamentals as the election approaches. But early on, the polls are especially unstable for candidates who suffer from a lack of name recognition. Both Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton were down by over 30 percentage points to the much-better-known George H.W. Bush a year out from the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections, respectively.

Polls in the U.K., on the other hand, ask mostly about parties, not candidates. If there were a large difference between how voters ended up feeling about the candidates versus the parties, polls asking only about parties could be wildly inaccurate. In reality, election day preferences for parties and individual candidates don’t differ by much.

While it’s difficult to measure the impact of candidate quality directly, extrapolating the national vote down to the district — known as uniform swing — works fairly well. Also, incumbency has very little advantage in the U.K. It’s only worth a percentage point or two for the Conservative and Labour parties, while it’s still worth around 5 percentage points in U.S. House elections, even in these super-polarizing times.

It’s only after the primaries take place that U.S. polls catch up to the U.K. ones in terms of accuracy. Why? Let’s go back to the Clinton and Dukakis examples. Clinton and Dukakis became better known as the primary campaigns unfolded, and by 150 days out (or the beginning of June in the election year), they were on basically equal footing with Bush in terms of name recognition.

But just as U.S. polls become as accurate as the U.K. ones, U.S. surveys become a lot less accurate around day 100. What the heck is going on?

The U.S. party conventions occur in this period. The greatest volatility in presidential campaigns occurs around the conventions, and U.K. politics simply has no real equivalent. Anyone remember when Dukakis took a large lead over Bush after the Democratic National Convention in 1988, about 100 days before the election? The bounce didn’t last long, but for a moment, Dukakis was up by nearly 20 percentage points.

After the conventions, U.S. election polls tend to be slightly more accurate than their U.K. counterparts. Both, however, suffer from a small spike in average pollster error just within 30 days of the election. Typically, that’s when the short campaign starts in the U.K. and when the U.S. candidate debates take place. As we saw in 2010 and 2012, with strong debate performances by Nick Clegg in the U.K. and Mitt Romney in the U.S., respectively, debates can lead to polling shifts that don’t last.

The good news is that polls pick up more than a percentage point of accuracy in the final 20 days of the campaign in both the U.S. and U.K. And polls taken on the day before the election have, on average, a 4.0 percentage point error in the U.K. and a 3.6 percentage point error in the U.S. Since 2004, polls have been more accurate on both sides of the Atlantic, with error rates of 2.7 percentage points or less in the final three days.

Observers, though, should always be on the lookout for elections in which the polls miss by a lot in either direction. For example, in 1992 in the U.K. and in 1980 in the U.S., the final polls were off by more than 6 percentage points because the conservative candidates were underestimated.

You never know where a shy Tory may be lurking.

Check out our 2015 general election predictions and full U.K. election coverage.

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Dear Mona,

How many Americans don’t know how to ride a bike? It always blows my mind when I meet someone that can’t, especially since I ride mine daily.

Brandon, 28, Jersey City, New Jersey

Dear Brandon,

MONAIn August 2013, YouGov commissioned a survey titled “Bikes & Edward Snowden.” Thankfully, the survey treated the two topics separately — I’ve yet to receive a Dear Mona question that asks about Edward Snowden’s cycling habits. (It’s actually pretty common for pollsters to tack on some extra questions about, say, horsemeat to a survey about working remotely — it saves them time and money.) And so, Brandon, I have an answer for you based on the responses of 1,196 U.S. adults: 6 percent of Americans don’t know how to ride a bike.


The results (that link will take you to an Excel download) are broken down further, so I can tell you who is the least likely to know how to ride a bike.

In the Northeast, 12 percent of Americans said they didn’t know how to ride a bike compared to just 3 percent in the Midwest (it was closer to the national average elsewhere — 5 percent in the South and 6 percent in the West).

White Americans are the most likely to know how to ride a bike. Only 4 percent said they don’t know how, compared to 7 percent of Hispanic Americans and 10 percent of black Americans. Married Americans were half as likely as single Americans to not know how to ride a bike (4 percent compared to 8 percent) — a fact that might be related to those numbers on race.

There were two pretty big surprises in the spreadsheet. I was expecting young Americans to be better on two wheels, but they’re not. Nine percent of those ages 18 to 34 would probably fall over sideways if they attempted to ride a bike compared to just 3 percent of those age 55 and over. Gender was the other big surprise. I expected a gap between male and female non-riders, and there was one: 60 percent of women and 42 percent of men said they never ride a bike even though they know how — I’ve looked at the various reasons for that in the past. So based on that previous research, I expected a similarly big gender gap in the percentage of Americans who don’t know how to ride a bike. But as it turns out, there’s barely any difference between the share of women who say they can’t ride a bike (6 percent) and men who say the same (5 percent).

Overall, Brandon, it looks like you’ve got a case of the old cognitive bias. You might be shocked every time you meet one of those 6 percent of adults who can’t ride — but that’s probably partly because you’re such a keen cyclist. In fact, there are more Americans who don’t know how to balance on a bike than there are daily riders like you.

Hope the numbers help,


Have a question you would like answered here? Send it to @MonaChalabi or

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It’s been an exciting week for the 2016 election — with Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, we have our first real, official contenders for the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. So we’ll be hosting a Facebook chat on Thursday with our editor in chief, Nate Silver, and our senior writer and analyst for politics, Harry Enten. Are you curious about who’s most likely to be Clinton’s biggest challenger? Or how this election will be different from 2012? Or maybe you just want to hear about our latest totally subjective odds.

Whatever your question is, head over to our Facebook page around noon EDT, when we’ll open a comment thread for questions. Nate and Harry will start answering them at 12:30 p.m., and we’ll do our best to get to as many questions as possible.

Note: You must have a Facebook account to post a question, and we will not be taking questions in the comments below.

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4 nations

Countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism — soon to be three. President Obama announced he will remove Cuba from the list, leaving only Syria, Iran and Sudan. Previous members include Iraq, Libya, North Korea and South Yemen. [NPR]

40-pound wolverine

A 40-pound wolverine being transported by staff from the Alaska State Zoo has been recaptured after it escaped from its carrier and ran loose around Newark Liberty International Airport . [The Consumerist]

Juror 49

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Roberts showed up for jury duty in Montgomery County, Maryland, Wednesday. He answered some questions, but was not selected to serve on the jury (for a civil trial regarding a car crash). [The Washington Post]

91 percent decrease

The population of sardines has dropped by 91 percent since 2007, according to a conservation group in Washington State, prompting the Pacific Fishery Management Council to direct the NOAA Fisheries Service to end sardine fishing season as early as possible. [Associated Press]

330 unidentified service members

In a reversal of previous policy, the Pentagon announced it will exhume and perform DNA testing on the remains of 330 unidentified service members killed on the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. [Washington Post]

$2.6 million

A judge ruled on Tuesday that Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, is owed $2.6 million by V. Stiviano, who was given “a house, a Ferrari and other luxury gifts” by Mr. Sterling. [The Guardian]

11.6 million streams

In addition to dominating at the box office, “Furious 7″ also appears to have a bona fide musical hit. “See You Again,” by Wiz Khalifa (featuring Charlie Puth) is the No. 1 song on Spotify. That and other songs from the film’s soundtrack have accumulated 11.6 million streams across various services in the past week. [The New York Times]

$49.5 million

Combined amount Chipotle paid its two co-CEOs last year, a total that has made some shareholders in the fast-casual burrito joint — preferred by 1-in-4 declared presidential candidates! — unhappy. [New York Times Dealbook]

$56.5 million

Cost of launching a Falcon 9 rocket, according SpaceX (assuming the rocket is not recovered after launch). The company said the cost would only be about $5 million to $7 million should the rocket be recovered, as they’re working on doing. On Tuesday, SpaceX tried to land a spent rocket on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean, and while the rocket did hit the barge, it also exploded — meaning it can’t be re-used. [Bloomberg TV]

62 million

Number of Netflix subscribers worldwide, according to earnings announced Wednesday. [Bloomberg Business]

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On Wednesday, Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd. He also faces separate murder charges for a 2012 drive-by shooting.

According to the USA Today NFL Arrests Database and Wikipedia, Hernandez appears to be the first NFL player ever arrested and convicted of a murder that he committed while still in the NFL (though Jovan Belcher was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs when he shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, before committing suicide in 2012).

I’ve written about crime and the NFL before, particularly on domestic violence (“The Rate of Domestic Violence Arrests Among NFL Players”). Murder arrests were also part of the data set I used, and show how Hernandez’s case fits into the broader crime rates in the NFL. Arrest rates among NFL players are likely11 well below the national rates for the comparable age group, pretty much across the board. Overall, police arrest NFL players about 14 percent as often as other 25-29 year old males, but that ratio varies widely by type of offense.


The NFL murder arrest rate is 30 percent of the national murder arrest rate for that demographic, which is high relative to many other crimes. But the number of murder cases is way too small to tell us much: The three cases are Hernandez, Belcher12 and Ray Lewis, who plead down to obstruction of justice.

The chart above is just arrest rates. Hernandez is now part of the two thirds or so of felony defendants in the U.S. (at least in the 75 largest counties) who are ultimately convicted or plead guilty, according to a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics study.

CORRECTION (April 15, 7:05 p.m.): An earlier version of this article included the incorrect first name of the Kansas City Chief who shot and killed his girlfriend in 2012. His name was Jovan Belcher, not Jordan Belcher.

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