The fallout over the controversy surrounding an NFL player’s suspension for betting on a pro football game in which he played has prompted an outcry over an apparent double standard over gambling on professional football.
But one thing Calvin Ridley’s punishment hasn’t seemed to do is draw attention to an apparent discipline disparity in the NFL, which hit the star wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons with a year-long suspension, a punishment that pales in comparison to those doled out when pro football players have been busted for beating women, for example.
Much of the discourse surrounding Ridley’s punishment has centered on the NFL’s incestuous — and lucrative — relationship with gambling sportsbooks. Critics have been calling the professional football league’s leaders hypocrites for suspending Ridley for participating in something the NFL has sanctioned.
Of course, athletes betting on their own games is largely seen as a cardinal sin in sports since those same athletes have the ability to affect the outcomes and enrich themselves. But Ridley bet on the games while he was on the non-football injury list and not actively playing in those contests this past November. While that doesn’t lessen the severity of what Ridley did, it certainly eliminates the suggestion that he placed bets on games whose outcomes he could affect.
Meanwhile, about three months before Ridley placed those bets over the course of five days, the NFL was already enjoying its partnership with four gambling houses that allowed them to work as Approved Sportsbook Operators for the league this past season. Months earlier, the NFL entered into sportsbook partnerships with online casinos Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel. Ridley reportedly placed his bets via FanDuel.
“Along with our three Official Sports Betting Partners, this group of operators will help the League to engage fans in responsible and innovative ways this season as the sports betting landscape continues to evolve,” Nana-Yaw Asamoah, Vice President of Business Development for the NFL, said at the time.
Considering Ridley was already taking time away from playing the game to treat his mental health, the wagers he placed — which he said amounted to $1,500 total — don’t really seem as serious as say, Pete Rose, the legendary baseball slugger whose gambling ways on games he played in have kept him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame and tarnished his reputation for decades.
Ridley’s suspension means he will forfeit his earnings for next season — more than $11 million.
Whether that is a just punishment is open to interpretation, thanks to the NFL’s past discipline of its players for other transgressions, to put it mildly.
Namely, Ridley’s punishment for a nonviolent violation may not seem logical since the NFL has handed down decidedly less harsh discipline for its players who have been involved in brutal instances of domestic violence.
For instance, Ray Rice — who as a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 was caught on surveillance video beating up his fiancee and rendering her unconscious from the barrage of brutal blows in an elevator in Atlantic City — was only suspended for two games and fined $58,000.
That same year, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was found guilty of beating his ex-girlfriend. Hardy’s arrest warrant claimed he threw the woman to the floor, threw her into a bathtub, slammed her against a futon and strangled her. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended Hardy for 10 games — again, far fewer than Ridley’s 17 games — before the suspension was reduced to four games.
Also in 2014, star running back Adrian Peterson was arrested for felony child abuse after viciously beating his 4-year-old son with a stripped-down tree branch. The CBS affiliate in Houston, near where Peterson beat his son, reported that the “beating allegedly resulted in numerous injuries to the child, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands. Peterson then texted the boy’s mother, saying that one wound in particular would make her “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”
Peterson’s punishment for brutalizing his toddler? A six-game suspension and a $4.1 million fine that was deducted from his $11.75 million salary.
There are other examples that follow this same pattern of the NFL enforcing punishments for violence that have been outweighed by discipline for players guilty of nonviolent violations. That includes Josh Gordon, who has been suspended for multiple entire seasons over his use of marijuana, a drug that has either been decriminalized for medical and/or recreational use or is on the ballot in 2022 in every state where each of the NFL’s 32 franchises is based except for Indiana and Tennessee.
Will Ridley’s suspension be upheld? Given the above examples, it’s doubtful. But until there is more parity among NFL punishments, which have fluctuated in nature and rarely seem to fit the offense, chances are we will likely see pro football’s disproportionate displainary history continuing to repeat itself.