It happened. In this new era of sports where gambling is not only more mainstream, but the leagues actually advertise the sports betting companies, a NFL player has been caught gambling on the NFL.
The league sent out a press release today, announcing that Calvin Ridley will be suspended for at minimum the entire 2022 season for gambling on NFL games during a five-day period in Nov. 2021. This happened while Ridley was away from the Atlanta Falcons on the non-football injury list. He played in only five games for the Falcons this past season catching 31 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. Ridley announced on Halloween that he needed to step away from football to focus on his mental health. NFL Insider Jordan Schultz had reported earlier today that the Houston Texans and New England Patriots had expressed interest in trading for Ridley.
According to the NFL, no games were compromised in any way and no members of the Falcons organization were aware that Ridley bet on games. However, Ridley placed parlays that included the Falcons to win, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Ridley is not the first NFL player to be suspended for gambling on NFL games since the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the national ban on sports gambling was unconstitutional. The other player was former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw. He was on injured reserve at the time, and the NFL suspended him in late 2019 for the rest of that season and all of 2020. His betting was also not found to have not compromised any games and was done without the knowledge of coaches and teammates. Shaw was reinstated in March 2021, but was not picked up by any team in free agency.
It’s one thing for sports gambling to no longer technically be illegal in America, but it’s another for the leagues to openly promote it. The NFL, MLB, and NBA dove into it trying to create another revenue stream and hoping that America is so full of adrenaline junkies that no one would notice that leagues are promoting an industry that is a real threat to the integrity of their games. The type of threat so severe, that when it was discovered that former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was actually giving a professional gambler tips on games that he worked in exchange for money, he ended up serving time in prison.
That is why there was no room for Commissioner Roger Goodell to be lenient with Shaw and now Ridley. It’s not an explicit lifetime ban like the one the MLB imposed on Pete Rose in 1989 who bet on his team while managing the Cincinnati Reds — which he denied until 2006. However, in the NFL, one year is similar to a lifetime ban considering how short the average career is in that sport.
Goodell wrote in responses to both players’ suspensions that the integrity of the league was put at risk. It’s one of the truest statements he ever made, and needs to be remembered as the NFL investigates Brian Flores’ accusation that during his first year as Miami Dolphins coach in 2019, team owner Stephen Ross offered him money to lose games. If there is one thing that can kill sports, it’s the public believing that they are watching fixed games. It could certainly cause them to stop betting on sports, and eventually stop watching.
Ridley had his first 90-catch, 1,000-plus yard season in 2020, so as long as no further information comes out, he will likely get another chance. There will likely also be reminders and compliance videos sent out to players, coaches, referees, anyone who is involved in the result of games. The league may be selling gambling, but those involved in the actual games need to never open up a sports betting site, much less place a wager.