The first rule for any professional sports athlete is that you can’t bet on the games. Technically it’s called Rule 21 and you can find it hanging in every Big League clubhouse. Pete Rose would walk past it every day for decades as a player and manager, paying it no mind, so his lifetime ban is the proper punishment. It’s the cardinal rule.
Rose claimed he never bet against the Reds, but that doesn’t really matter. If Rose bet on the Reds three straight days and then didn’t the fourth, well, we know what’s going on. So the same goes for Calvin Ridley. What he did, betting on his team’s games, puts everyone just too close to wondering if everything we see on the field is on the level. Then again, listen to any caller on a sports talk station and then ponder how many fans really do think everything they see is on the up and up.
Except it’s not that way anymore, is it? Not exactly, and certainly not what we remember. Ridley was reported by a gambling site to the NFL. And it feels like that’s whose interest is actually being protected here. At least more than the NFL’s.
Because if the NFL were making the integrity of their games the real priority, as my colleague Stephen Knox pointed out yesterday in reporting this story, why is Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross not under serious investigation? He’s been accused by a credible source, his own damn coach, that he instructed said coach to have his team take a dive for a better draft position. Should it matter if it was for a draft position or financial gain? Doug Pederson was also accused of throwing his last game as Eagles coach for a better draft position, though he says he was “coaching to win.”
The NFL has always been beholden to gambling. It has the most open-information policy about injuries specifically because of gambling. Teams have been fined for gaming the injury list throughout the week. Who was that really for? Their opponents or fantasy football players trying to set their lineups?
No, this feels like DraftKings and PointsBet and all the rest asking their new errand boy, the NFL, to make sure their interests are protected. It’s not that the NFL fears games being tarnished as far as what each team is really after, we’ve seen that. It’s that those gaming outlets are worried about people being hesitant to gamble on games they aren’t sure are everything they’re supposed to be. That’s why justice/punishment came so swiftly for Ridley. They’re bedfellows now. Makes sense they were actually looking for a player to be making bets and so ready to report it to the league. Beer companies buy a shitload of advertisements and sponsorships, too, but Budweiser isn’t calling the league offices when a player is shitfaced on a Wednesday.
Especially with how expanded gambling has gotten. You can go down this road as far as you feel like. With individual plays being available to be wagered on, quarters, halves, and any other combination you can think of. The smaller scale, the easier the manipulation, you could argue. Players aren’t likely to throw games or even shave points like we remember from our childhoods. The money they make is too great (though not if MLB owners get their way, which should bake everyone’s noodle). But one play here or there to wrangle a certain result for a half or quarter or even possession? Makes you wonder.
If you’re wondering why Ridley can get suspended so quickly and so thoroughly while Ben Roethlisberger just enjoyed a sendoff from networks and fans akin to a head of state, know that it really wasn’t the NFL administering the suspension. It’s the NFL’s new overlords.