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Calvin Ridley will be back on the gridiron in 2023 after being officially reinstated by the NFL on Monday. The 28-year-old wide receiver was traded from the Falcons to the Jaguars in November and will see the field for the first time since October 24, 2022 come training camp.
Ridley, a former first round pick out of Alabama, stepped away from football because of mental health reasons midway through the 2021 season. He was later suspended indefinitely, through at least the 2022 season, for violating the league’s gambling policy.
Ridley filed a profound letter to The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday. It marked the first time that he has opened up on his recent struggles with mental and physical health, and the gambling suspension.
The letter is a compelling read, which offers Ridley’s perspective in a well thought-out manner.
He took full responsibility for his actions and did not make excuses.
I f***ed up. I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. In 2021, I made the worst mistake of my life by gambling on football.— Calvin Ridley, in a letter to “the football world, and everyone who loves this game”
Calvin Ridley has seen all of the discourse surrounding his suspension.
That led to him to share the full story from his perspective. It goes well beyond a few bets.
In the letter, Ridley revealed for the first time that he unknowingly played most of the 2020 season with a broken foot. The trainer told him that it was just a bone bruise, and painkillers, specifically Toradol shots, kept him on the field.
Following the season, in which Atlanta went 4-12, the entire staff got fired. Two months before the 2021 season, when a new trainer was hired, Ridley was referred to a specialist.
Within the first hour, the doctor said, ‘Your foot is definitely broken.’ I was devastated […]
You gotta remember — I was the No. 1 guy now with Julio gone. I was under so much pressure to be out there. I got the surgery and rushed back, but I showed up to camp just mentally drained.— Calvin Ridley
At that point, early in 2021, Ridley still could not play without painkillers. Although they allowed him to stay on the field, once they wore off, he was returning home to his family “broken.”
Ridley couldn’t be the father to which he aspired, and couldn’t muster the energy to do anything but “lie around in a dark room.” He says that is where the anxiety began, especially as he tried to stay on the field and play through his lingering injury.
The Ridley household was robbed during Week 1 of 2021.
Upon returning home from his first game of the season, Ridley returned home with his wife and daughter to discover the break-in. They were able to remain calm until they reviewed the security footage and saw a group of men enter their home with guns drawn.
At that point, Ridley and his wife were hit with the severity of the incident. They both were traumatized, which left the star wide receiver feeling unlike himself.
It felt like I was getting attacked — but almost by something invisible. It’s like I’m getting hit in my chest, 24/7, by somebody I can’t see.— Calvin Ridley
A few weeks later, as the Falcons prepared to travel to London, Ridley hit his breaking point. He couldn’t leave his wife and daughter, at which point he told the team that he needed help.
I wasn’t good. It’s as simple as that. I’m as mentally strong as they come, believe me. But I really just needed a break. So I stepped away from the team.— Calvin Ridley
He consulted a therapist. He took the steps he needed to get better, which led to a larger understanding of the role his past played in his struggles of the present.
Ridley spent most of his childhood in and out of foster care, and homelessness. His mom and dad “lived that fast life.” They were largely out of the picture.
He had to learn to “put his armor on” and be the man of the household at a very young age. His brothers looked up to him.
That’s when football “saved Ridley’s life.”
Football changed the lives of Ridley, and his family, forever. His recruiting trip to Alabama was his first time on a plane. A scholarship gave him an opportunity to get an education. The on-field success allowed him to reach, and ultimately get paid, in the NFL.
Ridley understands the role that football has played in his life. That is why he penned the letter.
I want people to know my whole story, and know that I never meant to tarnish this game.— Calvin Ridley
When people ask Ridley what he was thinking when he violated the league’s gambling problem, he responds with a simple answer: “I wasn’t.” He “just f—ked up.”
This is where a lot of people may be able to relate to Ridley and his suspension. Though perhaps on a lesser scale.
Calvin Ridley’s betting stemmed from “a mistake in a dark moment.”
At the time when Ridley placed his bets, he had been away from the Atlanta organization for about a month. His depression and anger made for long days, and he sought relief for that boredom.
I was looking for anything to take my mind off of things and make the day go by faster. One day, I saw a TV commercial for a betting app, and for whatever reason, I downloaded it on my phone. I deposited like $1,500 total, literally just for something to do.— Calvin Ridley
While the scale of Ridley’s struggles go deeper than boredom, per say, sports bettors might find some understanding in his explanation. Often times, gambling — in this instance a multi-sport parlay — serves as relief.
Chasing a betting win offers something of a high. It provides a vested interest in something other than the weight of the world. It gives a chance to invest oneself in something beyond reality.
As the games are being played, nothing else matters other than a win or a loss. It’s an escape.
In Ridley’s case, however, it also happened to be a violation of NFL protocol. He shouldn’t have placed a bet. He knows that.
There was no malcontent. There was nothing larger at play.
I was going to bet like $200 on some NBA games that night, but then I just added a bunch more games to a parlay. I put the Falcons in on it.— Calvin Ridley
Ridley was simply getting behind his team.
I didn’t have any inside information. I wasn’t even talking to anybody on the team at the time.— Calvin Ridley
Ridley has paid for his mistake and he’s ready for the new chapter.
With the suspension behind him, Ridley is turning focus to the Jaguars and 2023. He is doing much better than he was in 2021 and 2022.
Right now, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt — mentally and physically. On the field, I’m flying. Believe me, I’m flying. That GPS band don’t lie. On my daughter’s name, if I’m healthy? With Trevor Lawrence? I’m giving Jacksonville 1,400 yards a season, period.— Calvin Ridley
Ridley is grateful to the Jaguars for their faith in him. Now it’s time to go to work.
Ridley is set to pay his debt to the game. He is ready for the next chapter.
It’s a new year, and a new Ridley. Both physically and mentally.