The NFL’s gambling problem
The problem isn't Calvin Ridley but the league's own hypocrisy.
As sports gambling has become more legal across the U.S., leagues have embraced what they had previously opposed. More than any other sports league, though, the NFL’s 180 on gambling felt particularly jarring. A mere seven years ago, Tony Romo’s fantasy football convention at a Las Vegas casino was canceled due to the league’s objections. Romo was eventually able to hold the convention … two years later, in Dallas, after he had retired. In April of last year, the NFL went all-in on gambling when it entered partnerships with three sportsbooks and then agreed to deals with four sportsbooks operators a few months later.
For some, it was a long-awaited development. For others, the NFL’s newfound fondness for gambling presented moral questions about addiction. For everyone, it was yet more proof of the league’s phoniness — and love of money above all else.
Well, let’s call making money the NFL’s priority No. 1a, because right behind it as priority No. 1b is “protecting the shield.” Calvin Ridley found that out on Monday, when Roger Goodell announced that the Falcons wide receiver would be suspended indefinitely — at least through the 2022 season — for betting on NFL games. He became the fifth player ever to be suspended for gambling (the first was Webster’s dad).
Ridley was caught after making three parlays from Nov. 23-28, all involving the Falcons beating the Jaguars (which they did). At the time, Ridley was away from the team to attend to his mental health, something unrelated to his gambling episode. As far as we know, this was the only time he placed any NFL bets.
The league’s investigation determined Ridley did not use any inside information, but the possibility of a player doing that is why Goodell dropped the hammer on him: to deter anyone in the NFL from ever trying to gamble on games and, worse, to potentially affect the outcomes.
Goodell’s letter to Ridley mentioned as much, and also said, "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.”
Buuuuut, that’s a bit rich, no pun intended, when the same league hands out six-game suspensions for domestic or sexual assault (and sometimes fewer games than that!) and has an inconsistent, often incomprehensible approach to how it doles out punishment.
If you want to talk about upholding the integrity of the game, then maybe start there. Or, y’know, with the owner who might have tried to incentivize his then-new coach into tanking. Or the owner who settled a lawsuit with his team’s cheerleaders for voyeurism claims against an executive, and who also allegedly treated those cheerleaders like Hugh Hefner treated the Playboy bunnies — not like real women but like property. Or everything Dan Snyder has ever done.
To be clear, Ridley screwed up, and he deserves to pay a price for that, which he acknowledged:
I don’t think the punishment fits the crime, though, not when the league has many other serious image problems and not when it is in bed with the same type of gambling companies that Ridley foolishly used a few months ago.
Then again, why should we expect the NFL to be anything but hypocrites?
And now, for a little fun …
Last week, the first season of what has been my favorite show of 2022 concluded: The Afterparty on Apple TV+. (Station Eleven was more moving and better “art,” but The Afterparty was such a delight.) If you haven’t heard of the show, it’s a comedic murder mystery that plays around with a different genre in each episode. First it’s a romantic comedy, then a Fast and the Furious parody, then a musical, etc …
I will not be spoiling anything about the show, except to say that it wrapped up the ending in a satisfying manner (but don’t Google “The Afterparty” because I did just now and one of the first results was a Vulture article that named the murderer right in the headline).
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for murder mysteries, so I was probably going to love it no matter what, but the series took it to another level with the type of Easter eggs it hid in each episode for eagle-eyed viewers and Reddit theorists. In fact, the creators hired puzzle masters to help craft intricate clues to include in the background of each episode, as detailed in this VERY SPOILERY Vanity Fair article (do not click if you haven’t seen the finale!).
Because I was inspired by the show, and because I’ve already played today’s Wordle, Quordle, and the New York Times’ Spelling Bee, I decided to create my own little puzzle in this newsletter. If you pay close attention, you’ll find the first name of an NFL player — someone who has been in the news recently — hidden in this post. I will reveal the answer next time, and I will also write a bit about what could be next for that player.