Skip to content

The economic wisdom of Ray Lewis (updated)

2011 May 22
by Victor Matheson

No, the title is not a typo. In this interview for ESPN, Lewis claims that,

“one of the consequences of a lost NFL season will be an increase in crime…’Do this research 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,’ Lewis told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.

When asked why he thought crime would increase if the NFL doesn’t play games this year, Lewis said: ‘There’s nothing else to do Sal,’”

Let’s put aside the unintentional comedy of an man guilty of obstruction of justice in a murder case giving preditions about criminal behavior and focus on Lewis’ comments.

Basically, Lewis says in the absence of football, people will go do other things instead and exhorts people to go do research on what happens when sports stikes and lockouts occur. Well, Lewis’ wish is our command.

Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys and Rob Baumann, Rob Baade, and myself find ourselves, at least partially, in odd agreement with Lewis. Our studies of real per capita personal income and taxable sales in cities that have experienced work stoppages in professional sports have found that people do indeed find other things to do when sports are not around. But rather than turning to crime, these two studies find people simply turn to other economic activities leading to no obsevable changes in real economic variables despite the lack of football, baseball, hockey, or basketball.

On the other hand, Daniel Rees and Kevin Schnepel’s work on college football suggests that at least at the collegiate level, crime rises when the game is played not when it is absent. According to the pair of economists, “Our results suggest that the host community registers sharp increases in assaults, vandalism, arrests for disorderly conduct, and arrests for alcohol-related offenses on game days. Upsets are associated with the largest increases in the number of expected offenses.”

I’m just glad my research is the side that basically agrees with Ray Lewis. I certainly wouldn’t want to be Daniel and Kevin contradicting him.

Update:  Dan and Kevin have informed me that they have emailed Ray Lewis a link to David Card and Gordon Dahl’s paper, “Family Violence and Football” (QJE, 2010), which shows that NFL games (and not just college games) are also linked to observable increases in domestic violence. Since this paper more directly contradicts Lewis’ claim, Dan and Kevin assume they are off the hook. And since David is a full professor at Berkeley, they figure he is in the best position to pay for a security entourage.

5 Responses
  1. May 23, 2011

    This morning I was reading about Ray Lewis, and then did my rounds on some of the sport-thinker blogs as I was crafting a post for our professional blog and stumbled across this. As usual, you all captured my interest. I lifted a quote and some info from you guys, and included a nod towards the crime that NFL players have been contributing in their idleness, or so it seems. Cheers.

  2. Jeff permalink
    May 23, 2011

    When I used to work in a hospital, Sunday afternoons after an Eagles loss was the worst. And don’t let it be an upset loss to the Cowboys. Good article.

  3. Will permalink
    May 25, 2011

    Is seems to me that there is an increase in arrests on college game days for two reasons: there is a huge increase in the amount of people in that city, and due to this an increase in the amount of cops on duty. So there are more people to arrest (especially for the alcohol related charges), and more people to arrest them. I know that is the case in Knoxville. I don’t think it has much to do with the game itself.

  4. Dennis permalink
    May 25, 2011

    I won’t defend Ray Lewis’ comments about crime. I will, however, defend Ray Lewis concerning the implication that he was complicit in murder.

    The evidence never pointed to him as the killer. He was charged with murder by a prosecutor who knew he did not do it as a tactic to pressure him to testify. As a strategy for getting cooperation from a witness, character assassination is despicable and, in this case, also ineffective. The actual killers were never convicted of anything. So Ray Lewis gets convicted of obstruction of justice largely as a consolation prize to a prosecutor that botched the real case. Of course, once charged with murder, the suspicion and innuendo always hangs around the individual. The only thing Lewis was really guilty of, as far as I can tell, is the bad judgement of staying close to the friends he had growing up when those friends had nothing to lose and he, on the other hand, had everything to lose.

  5. Victor Matheson permalink
    May 25, 2011

    Will, actually it’s more than just more people and more police. Both of the crime studies find that violence is more widespread following upsets. But upsets are not correlated with attendance or policing, so there is something about the game itself that brings out the worst in people.

    As for Ray Lewis, it is only reasonable to presume Lewis is merely a victim of bad judgement if he was forthcoming about what he knew in regards to the altercation involving two of his “friends” that left two people dead.If he intentionally provided misleading or incomplete information to police about this double homicide, however, then he deserves every bit of scorn that he has received.

    We can’t pretend to know which of these scenarios is the real truth, and I can only state that Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice in the murder cases and admitted to giving misleading statements to police. Coerced? Maybe. He’s definitely not a murderer, but it is far from clear Lewis was merely a victim of bad judgement.

Comments are closed.