Published on September 10, 2019 by Matt Yonan and Darin White  

Besides hoping their favorite team stays healthy, plays well and makes it to the playoffs (fingers crossed!), NFL fans would really like the players to stay out of trouble. Really, the less controversy, the better. Every time a marquee player (or coach, or owner, or front office staff member for that matter) is featured in a negative headline, NFL fans collectively shake their heads and groan.

The biggest negative for fans? Criminal behavior.

According to our research, the top five most egregious offenses in the eyes of fans:
  1. Involvement in sex trafficking/prostitution
  2. Domestic violence/abuse
  3. Sexual harassment in the workplace
  4. Doping/drug use
  5. Criminal offenses while intoxicated (i.e., DUI, trespassing, etc.)

Notably, protesting or player activism does not rise to the level of a top five “offense” according to fans. Further, fans are fed up with not just player behavior, but coaches, team staff and owners too. Accordingly:

  • Biggest offense for players: domestic violence/abuse
  • Biggest offense for coaches: involvement in sex trafficking/prostitution
  • Biggest offense for front office staff: involvement in sex trafficking/prostitution

If these crimes seem familiar, it’s probably because they have all been in high-profile news stories over the past year. It appears NFL fans are paying attention and they don’t like what they see when it comes to these behaviors. So, what do fans want done about it? And do they agree with how the league is handling them?

Interestingly, our research says that self-described die-hard/avid fans are more likely than “casual” fans to want stricter punishment for bad behavior.

  • When compared to casual fans, die-hard/avid fans are more apt to think that current fines, game suspensions, or temporary banishment related to the top five offenses are not strong enough.
  • This holds true for players, coaches, and front office staff combined.

It then seems logical that fans would be upset with league leadership. Not so, according to our study. Despite being disappointed in how the league doles out punishment, fans still feel good about NFL leadership.

The majority of NFL fans (those who watch, attend or listen to games), rate the NFL’s leadership higher when compared to other leagues. We asked fans how they felt about leadership in the following areas: diversity/inclusion, league growth/expansion, relationship with the players’ union, management of player discipline, and management of ownership discipline. In fact, when asked to rank leadership from best to worst across all five major leagues:
  • 50% rank NFL leadership first (the best)
  • 72% rank the NFL’s leadership first or second


  • 19% rank MLB leadership first
  • 17% rank NBA leadership first
  • 7% rank NHL leadership first
  • 7% rank MLS leadership first

So, is the NFL really head and shoulders above the other leagues, or has it just succeeded in creating a very loyal (and forgiving) fan base?

Tigris Sponsorship & Marketing, along with the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics, conducted this national survey with a panel of self-reported NFL fans. There were 1,001 responses, with a +/-3% margin of error. This is the second part in a three-part series on this research.