Calvin Ridley won’t be playing wide receiver for the Falcons or any other team in the 2022 NFL season. The league came down hard on Ridley for violating its policy on gambling while taking a leave of absence from Atlanta in 2021, suspending him indefinitely.
Ridley, via Twitter, admitted to betting $1,500 on NFL game action, adding that he didn’t have a gambling problem. If Ridley is reinstated for 2023, he would still earn the $11 million that was due to him by the Falcons this year.
There are many reasons to think Ridley’s suspension is unfair. There have been players who have gotten lesser bans for violating the league’s personal conduct policy for more egregious, actual criminal acts. When other players have compromised the integrity of the game by violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, it takes three failed tests to be suspended for a season.
In 2022, it doesn’t seem like gambling on the NFL is a big deal. There are 27 states where sports betting is legalized, including Florida, where Ridley placed his online bets — multiple parlays that included his Falcons winning. It also doesn’t sit right with many that the league is also tied to a new revenue stream through connections with major gambling sites, which is also how it was able to discover Ridley’s misstep.
The empathy toward Ridley comes from the fact his biggest “crime” was stupidity. He’s only the fifth player in NFL history to receive a gambling suspension. Since the Supreme Court paved the way for legalized sports betting in 2018, Ridley joins only former Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw, who was suspended for the entire 2020 season.
Both Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras and Packers running back Paul Hornung got season-long bans in 1963 and still made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For former Colts quarterback Art Schlichter, his 1983 suspension foreshadowed major future legal problems.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has been a target of criticism for the league’s handling of investigations into teams and players’ subsequent questionable disciplinary action. But his statement informing Ridley of the suspension was crystal clear why gambling in the NFL while playing the NFL is zero tolerance no-no.
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. 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.
(Roger Goodell on Calvin Ridley)
The rule isn’t complicated and the reason for it is obvious. The amount gambled on in the NFL, the frequency of the gambling or on what team a player is gambling is irrelevant. In an era where sports betting has gone from the bookies operating illegally to sportsbooks legally raking in big bucks at betting windows and online, the taboo is gone, but there still needs to be blanket, absolute rules in place to be a true fair game.
“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction,” Goodell added. “In your case, I acknowledge and commend you for your promptly reporting for an interview, and for admitting your actions.”
Ridley being transparent was the best thing he could do so his suspension won’t last for more than a season. Unfortunately, $1500 that put $11 million at risk wasn’t a very good bet.
Shaw is still looking for NFL work after being reinstated last March. Karras and Hornung came back to finish their careers strong and stamped their tickets to Canton.
Ridley is only 27, but coming off a breakout 2020 that earned him second-team All-Pro honors, it’s difficult to see him throw away a prime season coming off a 12-game mental health respite last season.
But just like personal conduct issues and PEDs fall into different policy buckets than gambling while in the NFL, Ridley’s off-field struggles don’t earn him a free pass back on the field for doing something that more than 99.9 percent of NFL players have known is wrong for many seasons. Many might have gotten away with it, but Ridley set himself up for becoming the modern cautionary tale.
The NFL shouldn’t catch any heat for catching Ridley in the act. Dropping the ball on dropping the hammer would have been a lot worse look given its new betting landscape.