Calvin Ridley’s Yearlong Suspension Sparks NFL Betting Debate
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended from the National Football League for one year Monday after he had been found gambling on games during the 2021 season.
“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a note to Ridley informing him of his suspension. “This is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official, and anyone else employed in the league. 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.”
Ridley appeared in five games for the Falcons in the 2021 campaign before departing on a mental wellbeing break on Halloween, citing pressure and circumstance as reasons for his unexpected hiatus. He was found to have placed three, five, and eight-leg parlay bets, one of which involved the Falcons to win, during his time away from the team.
Calvin Ridley’s One-Year Suspension
Calvin Ridley had his best professional season in 2020 when he caught 90 balls for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. He was voted Second-Team All-Pro and seemed like a bridge to the future for a franchise that was headed downhill.
Roger Goodell has said that Ridley’s suspension will last for at least the 2022 season but could end up carrying over to future seasons as well.
The 27-year-old wideout addressed his circumstance via Twitter, claiming that he only wagered $1,500 and does not have a gambling addiction.
I bet 1500 total I don’t have a gambling problem
— CALVIN RIDLEY (@CalvinRidley1) March 7, 2022
For context, Ridley made a $1,966,461 salary in 2021 and is due to make $11,116,000 in 2023. He will not earn any of his scheduled salary during his suspension.
The Falcons’ number-one target also tweeted that he was “Just gone be more healthy when I come back” and “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol,” taking exception to the harsh verdict.
The NFL became aware of Ridley’s bets through its relationship with the sports betting industry, the most widely-expanding market in American sports. Reports have also indicated that Ridley was placing bets on the National Basketball Association and other sports during a five-day stretch in November. This is not illegal under league rules.
The NFL stated that it has not uncovered any evidence that Ridley used inside information or rigged any games in any way; Falcons personnel claim to have not been aware of his gambling.
The earliest that Ridley can apply for reinstatement is February 13, 2023.
The NFL’s Relationship with Sports Betting
The NFL has become more entrenched with sports betting recently, allowing stadiums to partner with sportsbooks, advertising betting agencies during pregame shows, showing live betting odds during games, and continuing to advocate for the expansion of legalization state-to-state. Sports betting as a whole is expected to rake in over $10 billion in total handle— that is, wagers accepted by legal, registered sportsbooks— in 2022, with 33 states currently offering sports gambling in some form. 20 of those states have passed legislation legalizing online sports gambling, which accounts for a majority of most betting handles.
This all comes in accordance with a 2018 court decision that reversed a ruling that sports gambling had to be localized to Nevada, thereby allowing states to determine whether or not they wanted to allow sports betting within their legislatures.
With the further development and ingratiation of betting into the NFL comes more questions: many critics of Ridley’s suspension were quick to point out that former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores alleged his then-team owner, Stephen Ross, promised him $100,000 bonuses per game that he lost in an attempt to move up the draft board and land a more highly-touted college prospect.
Longtime coach Hue Jackson supported these claims and revealed that he received similar quests during his tenure with the Cleveland Browns.
A Maverick in the Field
A man named Warren Sharp, a successful gambler, podcast host for The Ringer, and frequent NBC Sports guest who has solicited his services as a numbers analyst to different franchises, has also caused a stir in NFL front offices over recent years.
Sharp’s specialty is points totals, more commonly known as over/unders— he tends to bet on the overs, whereas most gamblers bite on the unders. He and his colleagues in a group of successful bettors frequently work together to come up with their bets for the season.
Clearly, he is an intelligent man with a great grasp of numbers.
However, Sharp’s dual role as a consultant and gambler has caused friction within organizations, with one anonymous data analyst going so far as to reveal that his peers were unsure how Sharp was still eligible to place wagers on games with his connections to different teams and access to privileged information.
Sharp’s case, albeit unique, highlights another dilemma as the league adapts to a world where gambling and business operations are becoming one in the same.
Teams Under Pressure?
The Arizona Cardinals became the first NFL teams to partner with a sportsbook in 2021 when they co-launched BetMGM in State Farm Stadium.
This is a tremendous opportunity to build upon our long-standing relationship with Gila River and launch a new one with BetMGM,” Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said in a statement at the time. “They are best-in-class partners whose excellence and expertise in this emerging space will provide a new and innovative way to engage and interact with our fans.”
Later in the same year, the Jacksonville Jaguars formed an allegiance with ThriveFantasy to offer daily fantasy sports and an esports partner to their team.
“Thrive will give our fans yet another exciting opportunity to interact with their favorite team and, in this case, win prizes,” said Mike DiMartino, Jaguars Vice President of Corporate Partnerships after the partnership was announced.
These are not standalone examples of sports teams and stadiums joining forces with sportsbooks either; recently, Missouri lawmakers came under pressure after owners of the Kansas City Chiefs and other local professional sports teams made a joint effort to lobby for legalization of sports betting within Missouri.
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III spoke in January of the group’s desires to push legal gambling over the edge.
“[Missouri sports betting can be] more engaging fan experience for our fans while providing an important source of revenue for the state of Missouri,” said DeWitt III. “All of the professional sports teams in Missouri support legislation that will allow wagering to occur in a responsible way in the appropriate setting.”
DeWitt’s statement, while powerful, revealed the tremendous pressure that states are under— pressure that could soon fall onto the league as measures are passed and sportsbooks permeate professional sports.
Cleaning the Mess
The NFL is at a crossroads with its future related to sports gambling and needs to come up with a plan to weed out any potential interference: this includes scrubbing away the gray areas that exist within hiring betting experts and partnering with sportsbooks at a team or league level, much less any team owners trying to negatively influence their team’s performance.
Calvin Ridley betrayed the integrity of his profession but also unlocked Pandora’s box in sparking discourse about all facets of the NFL and sports gambling.
There is no clear-cut next step in this situation— that is the eerie part. All there is to do is wait.