Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for at least the 2022 NFL season after an investigation determined that the former All-Pro wagered on NFL games during the 2021 season. While Ridley isn’t the first NFL player to be suspended for gambling since the widespread legalization of sports betting in the United States—Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw was suspended for the 2020 season after gambling on games while on IR in 2019, a suspension that led to the end of his career—he is the first legitimate star to be punished. Ridley reportedly placed three parlay bets (involving three, five, and eight legs), all of which were dependent on the Falcons winning to cash out. Although Ridley was away from the team when he made the bets and the NFL’s investigation found “no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way,” the league brought the hammer down.
Here’s what we know: Ridley’s bets were made between November 23 and November 28. According to The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones, they were placed in Florida via the Hard Rock Sportsbook app. The Falcons beat the Jaguars 21-14 on November 28. Since the NFL announced Ridley’s suspension, the receiver has gone on a tweeting spree, posting “I bet 1500 total I don’t have a gambling problem” and “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol.”
I bet 1500 total I don’t have a gambling problem— CALVIN RIDLEY (@CalvinRidley1) March 7, 2022
I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol— CALVIN RIDLEY (@CalvinRidley1) March 7, 2022
This news raises a series of logistical and ethical questions, as the NFL simultaneously tries to protect the integrity of its games while embracing the monetization opportunities that come with legalized sports gambling. Here are 26 questions that spring to mind.
1. What were the other legs of Ridley’s parlays, and did he hit on any of them?
2. Was Ridley betting on the Falcons or against a Jaguars team that was then coached by Urban Meyer?
3. Didn’t we all have inside information on Meyer at that time?
4. Did Ridley learn about the app by watching one of the thousands of advertisements for sportsbooks that air every NFL Sunday?
5. Is Ridley’s favorite Manning brother also Cooper?
6. Are Ridley’s tweets about how he bet only $1,500 accurate?
7. Has anyone previously managed to bet $1,500 and lose more than $11 million?
8. Now that we mention it, shouldn’t Ridley stop tweeting?
9. Or does he not have anything to lose after being stripped of an entire season’s salary?
10. Ridley tweeted that he’ll “learn from [his] Ls.” Is he the first sports bettor ever to do that?
11. Was Ridley unaware of the sign posted in every single NFL locker room about how gambling on football is strictly prohibited?
12. Isn’t Ridley’s punishment—being suspended for a full season—a bit harsh considering the low-level nature of the gambling, the lack of league evidence regarding insider information, and the NFL’s buddy-buddy relationship with sportsbooks?
13. Why does the NFL dole out harsher punishments to players for gambling on games than for domestic violence?
14. Why does it seem like the league has put more effort into investigating Ridley’s bets, for which no game “was compromised in any way,” than into investigating whether Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attempted to pay former Miami head coach Brian Flores to intentionally lose games?
15. Hold on, wait a second: Why can’t a player bet on his own team? If the idea behind banning player gambling is that we don’t want to disrupt the competitive integrity of the game, shouldn’t we allow players to give themselves extra financial incentive to win?
16. Fundamentally, what’s the difference between a player having a performance bonus in his contract—like getting an extra $1 million after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in a season—and that player betting the over on his regular-season rushing total?
17. Why are NFL players allowed to have fantasy teams—including for small monetary prizes—but not to gamble?
18. If NFL players aren’t allowed to gamble on games, are they allowed to gamble on other things related to the NFL?
19. Could they wager on the Super Bowl coin toss, which was legally available to bet in many states?
20. Will commissioner Roger Goodell ever explain why he completely changed his stance on sports gambling from 2017 (when he said the league “strongly oppose[s] legalized sports gambling”) to 2020 (when he said “sports gambling in many ways creates a lot more engagement for our fans [and] gives them another opportunity to engage with the game”)?
21. Isn’t the NFL as compromised as anybody here? The league will profit when the sportsbooks profit. Sportsbooks win when the public bets heavily on teams that lose. If Ridley’s suspension is a message that the integrity of games is affected by players wagering on the NFL—even the games they aren’t participating in—how can we trust the league to fairly administer and adjudicate games knowing that it also profits from sportsbooks?
22. How about sports media, which regularly offers betting tips despite being financially dependent on advertising from gambling companies? What are the ripple effects when all of these industries try to coexist? The explosion of legalized betting is primed to be one of the dominant stories in sports over the next few years, with myriad and complex considerations. So when a blogger advises gamblers to, say, bet on a bunch of random Winter Olympics events, what does it mean when he totally nails those picks?
23. Are the severe punishments handed down to players caught violating the league’s clear-cut rules on gambling an attempt to distract us from the ethical issues at play with the NFL’s sudden and passionate embrace of a once-taboo topic?
24. Do you want to know the terrifying truth … or do you want to win big while watching NFL players score touchdowns?
25. Is Ridley allowed to gamble during his suspension, when he’s not allowed to interact with his team?
26. And if the answer is yes … does Ridley want to cohost a gambling podcast to help recoup the money he’s losing in 2022?