The news that Atlanta Falcons and old University of Alabama star receiver Calvin Riley was suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games while he was away from the team last November due to mental health reasons is disappointing for league fans.

The same could be said for those who hoped that league-wide game education programs were effective.

The indefinite suspension comes with a minimum one-year absence from the league. Ridley claimed via Twitter to have only bet “1500 in total”. However, the bets will cost him at least $11 million in salary if he failed to appeal the NFL’s decision.

What the NFL said

The league’s press release said Ridley would be suspended until at least the end of the 2022 NFL season. According to the league, bets were placed over five days in November 2021.

Additionally, the NFL notes that Ridley was not only away from the team, but also away from team facilities. This is perhaps a preemptive attempt to refute any claims that Ridley was aware inside information on game plans.

Ridley can ask to be reinstated in 2023. However, he had three days from the announcement of his suspension to appeal, which could see the sentence reduced.

Not the first dance

This is of course not the first NFL encounter with players breaking league rules and placing bets.

In November 2019, Josh Shaw has been suspended for the duration 2020 season after finding out he had placed bets in Las Vegas while on injured reserve. However, Shaw was not the first suspended player.

Indeed, the NFL has periodically struggled with player play and has dealt with cases fairly consistently over time despite the evolution of the league.

Dated of 1963when the NFL suspended the stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for associating with players, the league imposed an indefinite suspension with the possibility of reinstatement after serving a one-year absence. Likewise, in 1983the league’s suspended quarterback Art Schlicter indefinitely for his gambling inclinations, but was granted reinstatement after 13 months, and Schlicter began gambling treatment.

What is the NFL’s playing policy?

Like LSR reported when the NFL suspended Josh Shaw, the NFL Playing Policy is broken down into a general policy, then specific examples are provided.

The policy states:

Betting, especially betting on NFL games or other sports, poses risks to the integrity of our competition and team cohesion, and can undermine the trust of our fans and colleagues in the most great american game.

We therefore owe it to our fans and everyone associated with the League to take all appropriate measures to protect our game against possible threats from illegal gambling as well as gambling within a legal and regulated environment.

What does it look like?

Examples listed then include:

  • No illegal gambling, including overseas or in states without legal sports betting.
  • No betting in any form on NFL games, including through third parties.
  • Players must always give their “best effort” in any game to avoid any irregularities.
  • Offering inside information or advice about a team or game is prohibited.
  • Staff cannot visit or enter a bookmaker during the season.
  • No betting is allowed in any form in any club or league.

Assemble Ridley’s pieces?

The incident was probably detected and reported by the bookmaker to the league. The bookie would have been the digital hard rock book that ran briefly in Florida. The system seems to have worked well, at least on the industry side.

The regulated market is supposed to quickly detect and stop illegal bets. By most accounts, that appears to be what happened here. If, as Ridley claims, he only bet $1,500, that should be considered a win for the regulated market.

The NFL, however, is always on the outside when it comes to integrity. This is the second failure in three years to effectively educate players on what is allowed by the league. If NFL players still don’t know the rules, it’s a league failure.

An Abundance of Bad Takes

If you even spent a few moments on Twitter following the Ridley incident, you were likely inundated with opinions about his actions.

Some of these takes, like NFL players should be able to bet on themselves, are easily debunked. The idea that there is no integrity risk if a player bets on his own team winning is simply wrong. While the player can do his best, what signal is sent to the world when this player does not bet on his team’s victory, or bets less than usual?

It’s the old one Pete Rose Argument: Just betting on your team winning doesn’t make it better because every time you don’t bet it sends the message that you think the team is more likely to lose.

What to think of the Calvin Ridley news

The system works regardless of who reported the bet someone made.

The operators (and possibly the providers as well) do their job of identifying unauthorized bettors.

But the NFL has work to do to educate its players on what is allowed.

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