A group of college professors and researchers has studied that question as part of a paper on off-duty deviance in professional settings. Their peer-reviewed work was published this month in the American Journal of Applied Psychology.
There were two NFL draft-related results. First, that between 2001 and 2012, players with publicly-documented pre-draft arrests were nearly twice as likely to be arrested after reaching the NFL than those who had not been arrested. The second, which is perhaps less obvious and more valuable, was that there was a small but clear correlation between arrests and Wonderlic tests scores. Players who scored below the mean in the researchers’ sample were also about twice as likely to be arrested in the NFL as those who scored above it.
“The effects are relatively small,” said author Brian Hoffman, an associate professor and chair of the industrial-organizational program at the University of Georgia. “But it’s important here because when making multimillion-dollar decisions, a small effect can be very meaningful. A player’s getting a four-game suspension can be a big deal, competitively and financially.”
By the way, I’ve always been interested in the flip side of this question: how much does athletic talent help youths stay out of career-disastrous entanglements with the law?
I would hypothesize that high athletic potential black youths are less likely to land in prison, either because they have more legal opportunities and thus avoid joining criminal gangs, or better role models such as coaches rather than pimps, or because important adults pull strings for them (e.g., paying off the coed accusing them of rape) or hiring them a good lawyer (who was, say, a fraternity brother of the judge in their case).
One way to study this might be with prison and arrest records by height. My hypothesis would be that very tall black men are underrepresented in prison relative to their share of the population.
This would be a tricky analysis to carry out because you’d need two big sample sizes of heights, one of the general population and the other of the in-trouble population, to find enough potential NBA height individuals. But if anybody ever stumbles upon two such databases, it could be a pretty interesting nature-nurture study of individuals who enjoy very positive nurture due to a semi-random nature factor (height).