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July 2013

Playing the (NFL arrest) stats

There is an interesting debate going on in the comments of this NPR article on the legal trouble some NFL players have been getting themselves into recently. Are NFL players getting more or less in trouble than "the average person"? The article states: "[The] data found that the percentage of players arrested in the NFL last year was 1.9 percent, compared with the 4.9 percent of American adults arrested in 2010," and goes on to suggesting that "football's popularity creates the perception that the problem is worse than the numbers suggest," but perhaps it is only a perception problem.

Commenters to the article make the great point that it really depends on who the NFL athletes are compared to. What should be the baseline here: "males only, ages 20-40 mainly", or "other people making $100,000+ salaries," or "[other people] arrested in the "normal" population [who] kept their jobs"?

Unsurprisingly, this is an issue that has preoccupied researchers before, and for a thorough statistical analysis of the topic, I recommend Criminal Violence of NFL Players Compared to the General Population by Alfred Blumstein and Jeff Benedict. The paper dates from 1999, so it would definitely benefit from an update, but it is interesting nonetheless. The authors use as their benchmark the young male population, adjusting for race. (They don't consider income because crime data depending on income levels is not readily available.) Their conclusion is that the NFL rates are well below those of the general population. In their words, the NFL players, who are winning games based on their physical strength on the field, might actually be exhibiting restraint - in the sense that they get less in trouble with the law than their peer group - off the field.

Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact

In what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant Harvard Business Review articles of the year, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh argue in the June 2013 issue that the time has come for a new compact between employers and employees, which "recognize[s] that jobs are unlikely to be permanent but encourage lasting alliances nonetheless." While the 20th-century compact based on loyalty and lifetime employment is definitely a thing of the past, the current approach, purely transactional, is not satisfactory either.

The authors emphasize the need both for employee and employer to add value to each other: the employee contributes to the company's adaptability and the employer to the employee's employability. They recommend:

  1. hiring employees for explicit "tours of duty", typically two to four years, with an evaluation at the two-year mark. This is a great idea: it is long enough for the employee to gain as many lessons as he can, including uncomfortable ones about, say, dealing with difficult colleagues instead of quitting and looking for the next opportunity, but not too long that his skills become stale. 
  2. encouraging employees to build networks and expertise outside the organization.
  3. establishing active alumni networks to maintain career-long relationships. That is yet another outstanding suggestion - every university has an alumni network, and after a few years with the same employer, a specific company can have had far more impact on an employee's expertise and career path than where he went to school as an eighteen-year-old. Corporate alumni networks are not completely new: they were pioneered some time ago by management consulting firms, which often place their own consultants in executive positions at clients and thus had a vested interest in keeping track of them. The practice has grown outside consulting only recently, though, in particular because sites like LinkedIn allow for an easy way for company alumni to stay in touch.

NOTE: the blog will be on a summer regimen of short posts posted every few weeks until September, when I will resume writing posts on healthcare policy.