Aaron Hernandez home searched: Do NFL players have a problem with the law?

Police spent several hours Tuesday night at the home of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Although there's a public perception about NFL players having run-ins with the law, this impression may not be correct.

Erika Niedowski/AP
Two members of the Massachusetts State Police walk toward the front door of the home of New England Patriot's NFL football player Aaron Hernandez in North Attleborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 19. State and local police spent several hours at Mr. Hernandez’s home, a day after a body was discovered in an industrial park in town, according to preliminary media reports.
Steven Senne/AP/File
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez holds his helmet as he steps onto the field before an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass., Dec. 2012.

Police searched the home of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez Tuesday night, but did not confirm whether they questioned the star player in relation to a possible homicide.

State and local police spent several hours at Mr. Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough, Mass., a day after a body was discovered in an industrial park in town, according to preliminary media reports.

State police told The Boston Globe they could not confirm whether troopers had questioned Hernandez. An anonymous source with knowledge of the investigation told Sports Illustrated that Hernandez is not a suspect in the death, but that a car rented in his name is linked to the investigation. Some media have reported that the deceased was a Boston man in his 20s.

Unidentified sources told ABC News that police found a rented 2013 Chevrolet Suburban with Rhode Island license plates near the scene, which led investigators to Hernandez. Investigators planned to execute a search warrant on the rental car Wednesday, ABC said.

At about 5:30 p.m. Monday, a body was found in the industrial park, the Office of Bristol County District Attorney office said. The precise location of the park was not officially identified, but a neighbor told the Globe he saw police at an industrial yard about a quarter-mile from Hernandez’s residence when he was driving home at about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“There were cops with metal detectors on both sides of the road: It’s a main road, everybody uses it,” neighbor Erik Dahl said.

On Tuesday night, an unmarked police car blocked the driveway to Hernandez’s house from just before 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. as roughly a dozen police officers entered the house and others stood guard outside. Two men were stopped by police trying to leave the house at 7 p.m. and were escorted away in police cars, reporters at the scene say. The men sat in front seats and did not look to be under arrest, the reporters said.

Police officers also reportedly removed a box from the house.

The Patriots drafted Pro Bowl player Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Patriots spokesman Stacey James said, "I am aware of the reports, but I do not anticipate that we will be commenting publicly during an ongoing police investigation."

While it’s far too soon to know whether Hernandez is responsible for any wrongdoing, the public perception that professional football players can’t seem to stay out of trouble with the law is probably an exaggeration – despite well-known cases involving Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, Ray Lewis, and others.

The 1998 book "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL" contended that out of a sample of 500 pro football players in the 1996-97 season, 20 percent had a criminal record. But the remarkably high number was challenged by a other studies, including one by Duke University professors in 1999, which found that NFL arrest rates were well below the rates for the general population.

The San Diego Union-Tribune hosts an NFL Arrests Database on its website, which currently has 653 entries for crimes beyond speeding tickets since 2000. The database lists 28 arrests in 2013 and 45 last year. (The data are compiled from news reports and public records but may not be comprehensive.) An analysis of this database by CBS in 2011 found that the arrest rate was also lower than that of the general population.

"[Professional athletes] are in the public eye and their profile is extremely high," Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University's center for Sport in Society, told The Christian Science Monitor at the time of Mr. Burress's indictment in 2009. "We are talking about very young people with a lot of public scrutiny, and some handle it better than others."

“Anytime an NFL player gets arrested, you’re going to hear about that story; you aren’t going to hear about it the other times someone gets arrested,” John Tauer, head coach of the men's basketball team at the University of St. Thomas and a professor of social psychology, told a CBS station in Minnesota.

Major League Baseball players, the CBS report noted, were arrested 16 times for major crimes like drug offenses and violent crimes in 2010. That year, 34 pro football players were arrested for those offenses, which puts football and baseball at a similar rate of arrest since there are twice as many NFL players as MLB players. The NBA, a smaller league, had 23 arrests that year.

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