The NFL has a gambling problem. But it’s not the same kind of gambling problem that your friend who keeps losing money on FanDuel has. The NFL is not hurting for money, we know that for sure. By now you have probably heard that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022 season on Monday for betting on NFL games last year. And while I do think Ridley deserves some sort of consequences for letting my fantasy team down in 2021 (totally kidding) I think the suspension he was handed was a bit outlandish.
An entire season seems a bit steep to me. Multiple players have committed domestic violence or assault and have gotten lesser suspensions than the one Ridley received. Greg Hardy, who is a certified scumbag, was suspended when he was accused of domestic violence, although his suspension was later reduced to just four games. Josh Brent was suspended for 10 games after being convicted for manslaughter. Mychal Kendricks was suspended for eight games after admitting to insider trading, which is a legitimate felony. There have also been countless other suspensions for “violations of the league’s personal conduct policy,” some of which have been recorded on video. Most of those suspensions were less than Ridley’s.
There have been eight players who had received a one-year suspension before Ridley. There are also two lifetime suspensions for fixing the NFL championship game in 1946. The league has also handed out some indefinite suspensions, some of which lasted shorter than a week, some of which lasted as long as a prison sentence (see Vick, Michael), and some of which seem to be definite and have not been overturned. Of the eight players that were suspended for an entire season, the reasons ranged from vehicular manslaughter, domestic assault, killing a pedestrian while drunk driving, and attacking a stripper. To me, those seem much more deserving of the one-year suspension than what Ridley did.
Two other players have been suspended for betting on games, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras in 1963. There are stark differences between what Ridley did and what those two did over fifty years ago. For starters, Hornung and Karras were actually playing in the games they bet on. Although they only bet on their teams to win, they were still factoring into what happened on the field, especially because they were star players. Ridley also bet on his own team to win, but he wasn’t suiting up for the Falcons at the time. Another difference is that Hornung and Karras were much more habitual gamblers than Ridley. By his own admittance, Ridley wagered just $1500 in total on the bets he placed. Sure, that’s more money than I would be able to gamble on some games but it’s not a ton of money for him. Horning and Karras bet on NFL games more than once before they were finally caught and punished, so the severity of their suspensions makes sense.
The weirdest part of this whole debacle is that the NFL has embraced gambling in its sport recently, or so it seemed. It is a bit odd for a league to have official sportsbook partners and be open to the inclusion of sportsbooks in stadiums yet discipline a player for using said sponsors. It would be akin to the MLB having an official partnership with a steroid brand yet still suspending players for using those steroids. I know that steroids have a much more direct impact on the game and that actually isn’t a great comparison, but I was just using that to show how insane this whole thing is.
While I am defending the actions of Ridley because he wasn’t breaking any actual laws, I still recognize his fault in this situation. He knew what he was doing was wrong. Despite being legally able to gamble, he knew that he was violating the rules set forth by his employer. We have had this conversation in sports for quite a while when it comes to marijuana, so we are familiar with the whole “it’s legal but still not allowed” caveat sometimes created by these leagues. Ridley probably should have executed better judgment when deciding to place bets on the Falcons (like not betting on the Falcons in the first place, next time pick a good team like the Rams or Chiefs). But is what Ridley did really that wrong? He wasn’t on the field impacting the game. He was no better than a very informed fan at that point. Also, he was betting on his team to win. We can all agree that betting against your team is bad but betting for your team is just trusting your teammates.
Like I said before, I still think Ridley is at some fault here. Maybe someday in the future players will be able to do what Ridley did without any consequences, but today is not one of those days. Ridley definitely deserves punishment for what he did, but I think it should be more in line with what Tom Brady got for deflating footballs. If Ridley was suspended for three or four games, it probably wouldn’t have become as big of a topic as it has. The stories would have been about how his lapse in judgment is really going to cost him and his team in the season. But instead, we are talking about how the league is in promoting sports betting while simultaneously punishing one of its players for betting on sports. So, Roger Goodell, next time something like this happens just suspend the player for a few games. He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t commit domestic abuse. He didn’t attack a stripper. All he did is believe in his teammates.