Rap Sheets among College Football Players: Important to the Nonprofit Sector or Not?

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March 7, 2011; Source: Sports Illustrated (Subscription Required) | The cover story in the latest Sports Illustrated reports on a six-month investigation of the legal shenanigans of some of the best players at top college football teams in the U.S. The results are staggering. Among the top 25 college football schools, with 2,837 players, 7 percent of the players had been in trouble with the law before or during their college experience.

Nearly 40 percent of the offenses were serious. Among the universities on the list, the University of Pittsburgh was ranked first with 23.5 percent of its scholarship players – 22 students – having had trouble with the law. The proportions of white and nonwhite players with legal troubles are roughly the same. Ranked at the bottom of the list were Rose Bowl winners Texas Christian University, with no arrests, and Stanford, with one.

In some cases, the schools are being sued by victims of the players' crimes, holding the schools culpable for their players' actions. This fascinating story about many nonprofit institutions of higher education contains broader implications for the nonprofit sector at large. For example, here at NPQ, we have written about "felonious philanthropists" –corporate criminals who used their wealth to create foundations that often intersected with their legal and PR issues of burnishing their images and buying public goodwill (PDF).

Does that mean that no one with a rap sheet should be given credibility for charity and philanthropy? What about a corporate felon who has seen the errors of his ways – like some of the kids on these football teams, perhaps? Maybe you don't want your CFO or bookkeeper to be lugging a rap sheet, but what about someone who has done his or her time and is now trying to serve the community, for example, through the various programs designed to help people released into the community from jail.

The issue isn't easy to navigate. How NPQ readers feel about nonprofit (and public) universities recruiting players with arrest records? Is there a right way or a wrong way to go with this? Does the principle extend more broadly into the nonprofit sector in terms of the recruitment of people with arrest records into board and staff positions? We'd like to hear from you.—Rick Cohen

  • Nikki Kirk

    I think everyone deserves a second chance. The ignorance of youth isn’t always blissful. We all should have a chance to redeem ourselves, and people with arrest records should have the opportunity to not only explain the circumstances, but to redeem themselves as well.

    It’s a vicious cycle that we have here in American. No one wants to give these individuals a second chance (or a first one at times, and no one wants to pay taxes to keep them up in the prisons, on the welfare rolls, on medicaid, and in the drug-rehabs. 😐