Calvin Ridley’s suspension for gambling highlights a bigger problem

OPINION: By embracing sports betting and helping it become mainstream, the NFL seemingly increases the odds that foul play will eventually occur.

Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons has the ball just off his fingertips in the first half of an NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley might not have a gambling problem, as he claims. But he definitely doesn’t have much common sense, either. Otherwise, intuition would’ve kicked in and made him follow the first rule for NFL players wagering on NFL games:

Let someone else make your bets.

Surely there’s a cuz or homey he could’ve trusted. Ridley could’ve had them place $1,500 on three multilegged parlays involving several games last November. Instead, he did himself—on his own cell phone—and got busted. The play netted him a one-year suspension, at minimum, and cost him an $11 million salary he was slated to earn next season.

“Your actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL,” commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Ridley notifying him of the suspension.

Maybe Ridley wasn’t paying attention in November 2019 when the NFL suspended cornerback Josh Shaw for betting on football; Shaw’s ban covered the rest of 2019 and the entire 2020 season for a total of 21 games. Perhaps Ridley thought his actions were OK because he picked the Falcons to win in each bet. Conceivably, he never imagined getting caught breaking an NFL taboo that’s been in place since at least the 1960s

“I learn from my Ls,” he tweeted. Later he tweeted: “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol.”

Ridley can afford to laugh a little. Having earned $11 million through his first four years in the league, he’s in a better position than most folks to weather an income interruption. Such isn’t the case for a rising number of gamblers with unfettered access to sports betting, with football games among their favorite plays.

In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law prohibiting sports betting. Shortly thereafter, the NFL ended its vow of celibacy and climbed into bed with gambling outfits, announcing deals with Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet, and WynnBet. 

It’s like every company wanted a piece, and the league couldn’t say no.

A general view shows the Race & Sports SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino before Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots on January 26, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Players, coaches, trainers and other employees are reminded time and again that betting on NFL games is forbidden. There’s no problem if Ridley bets on the Lakers, Yankees or Manchester United. And that message stays on repeat year-round, making it hard to accuse the league of hypocrisy as it snuggles up to bookmakers. 

Yet, it feels like a bit of a contradiction to punish players for betting their team will win. The league’s big fear is that players might bet the other way, especially if they’re bribed into throwing games. But by embracing gambling and helping it become mainstream, the league seemingly increases the odds that foul play will eventually occur.

Beyond its own selfish concerns, there’s a question of corporate responsibility. According to industry site, more than $87 billion has been legally wagered on sports since the Supreme Court ruling. You can’t watch a game today without seeing endless gambling ads. Companies are so desperate to get their hooks in, they make ridiculous offers like “Win if either team scores!” 

The fact is, the house wins as soon as the app is downloaded. 

Phones are crazy addictive without the ability to place bets in real-time from the comfort of your couch. Putting that temptation at your fingertips is too much for many folks, which explains why phones are ringing off the hook at the National Council on Problem Gambling call centers. 

“We’re still in the first inning of a lot of this stuff,” NCPG executive director Keith Whyte told the Washington Post. “It’s too early to tell the impact and severity of gambling addiction.” But research suggests a trend. “The signs we’re seeing are very troubling,” he said.

All parties involved—the states raking in tax revenue, the companies adding new customers, and the leagues cutting deals—say gambling addition is a primary concern. And you can tell by the information at the end of ads…if you’re adept at deciphering speed talk and reading the fine print.

Whether Goodell truly cares about ordinary people, his priority is the NFL’s image and integrity. Even a whiff of impropriety regarding outcomes is unacceptable. But if he wants to snuff it out, there’s a better target than Ridley, who played to win.

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores accused team owner Stephen Ross of offering him $100K per loss to tank.

That’s what we really want to hear about.

Deron Snyder

An award-winning columnist and a principal of BlackDoor Ventures, Inc., Deron Snyder is a veteran journalist, stratcomm professional, author, and adjunct professor. A native of Brooklyn and an Alpha from H.U.-You Know, he resides in metropolitan DC with his wife, Vanessa, mother of their daughters, Sierra and Sequoia. To learn more, please visit

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