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Armando Salguero: NFL Loves Gambling But Wants To Protect Its Integrity From Gambling

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is rightfully very serious about protecting the integrity of the game, and we saw that Monday afternoon when he suspended Calvin Ridley because the Atlanta Falcons receiver gambled on NFL games during the 2021 season.

In a letter to Ridley notifying him of a suspension that is scheduled to last at least one year, Goodell mentioned the integrity of the game and how Ridley had violated it:

“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,” Goodell wrote. “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.

“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction.” 

Ridley may petition the league for reinstatement on or after February 15, 2023.  And he may appeal his suspension by filing notice within three days.

So the NFL is protecting its integrity by drawing an impassable and impenetrable line at gambling.

But the NFL actually loves gambling.

It thrives, in part, because of gambling.

The NFL is even in business with gambling.

And if this sounds impossible because a league cracking down on gambling cannot possibly be in bed with gambling, then you’re starting to see another example of how Corporate America sometimes blurs the line between integrity and profit.

This is nothing new if you’ve been paying attention.

Companies like Nike have no problem employing Colin Kaepernick and endorsing his campaign for social justice on one hand while on the other hand benefitting from the sweat and toil of those in forced labor camps run by an authoritarian government in China.

And challenged about its association with those camps, Nike looks the other way to keep China happy because the country accounts for one quarter of the company’s global sales.

So very woke on one hand.

While benefitting and turning a blind eye to forced labor on the other.

The NFL’s issue with gambling isn’t so heinous as to include labor camps in a communist land.

But juggling a moral issue is juggling a moral issue, no matter what the issue might be.

And here’s the NFL’s issue:

The reason it enjoys three-pronged popularity as America’s favorite sport is because some fans simply love it on a pure level — for it’s action, drama, and, yes, violence. Fantasy gamers love the sport because it affects their personnel lives and the teams they own. And gamblers love to wager on the sport.

An estimated 31.4 million Americans bet an estimated $7.6 billion on the Super Bowl alone. And while it’s impossible to say one-third of the interest in the NFL comes from gambling, no one can deny gambling helps drive interest in the NFL.

The NFL is now also in business with gambling.

NFL partnerships with sports gambling companies and casinos represent a significant chunk of the NFL’s record $1.8 billion in sponsorship revenue, according to the New York Times.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones were early investors in DraftKings. And both the league and individual teams signed sponsorship deals with sportsbooks companies, which have for years now spent on television advertising during NFL games.

Amid all this funneling of gambling-related money to the NFL, Ridley got popped for betting what he said is $1,500.

He reportedly placed three-, five- and eight-game parlay bets, including on his own team in November.

Now, this is not to excuse what Ridley did. This is more to accuse the NFL of unmitigated hypocrisy.

Ridley knew or should have known what he was doing is against the rules. The NFL player manual is clear:

“All NFL Personnel are prohibited from placing, soliciting, or facilitating any bet, whether directly or through a third party, on any NFL game, practice or other event. This includes betting on game outcome, statistics, score, performance of any individual participant, or any other kind of ‘proposition bet.’”

But the NFL, which expressly prohibits gambling in its player manual, makes multiple millions from its gambling partnerships.

How does this protect the integrity of the game?

Oh, yeah, it doesn’t. It simply makes money.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

7 Comments

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  1. Yeah I think a year’s suspension is way over the top unless he was a) playing and b) bet against his team. Hopefully he gets the union involved and gets that number down. And we’re kidding ourselves if we think other players don’t gamble on games – whether on their own or getting friends/family to do their bidding.

  2. Calling this hypocrisy is ridiculous. The NFL has rules for players. Those players know the rules. Then they chose to follow them or not, and, like adults everywhere, deal with the consequences of those actions. If you don’t like that the NFL as a league partners with gambling sites and you as a player aren’t allowed to gamble, then don’t play in the NFL. Delta flies planes but the flight attendants can’t just randomly decide they feel like flying a plane today and then scream hypocrisy when they aren’t allowed because “delta flies planes.” Think about what you’re saying here? Making “moral equivalent” arguments is ALWAYS BS, regardless of what side you think you’re defending.

  3. Dude, you can’t let players bet on their own sport. Even if someone can prove they had no impact on the outcome of the game, its just looks awful.

    Ridley knew the rules. He broke the rules. He stupidly gave up $11 million this season for $1,500 in bets.

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