The NFL doesn’t want players gambling but is happy to gorge on the proceeds

The NFL has punished a player severely for betting on games. But the league is complicit in an activity that at best warps minds and at worst ruins lives

On Monday, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for a full season for wagering on NFL games. The league’s investigation, which found that Ridley made the bets while he was away from the team to concentrate on his mental health in November, said there was no reason to suggest Ridley had used inside information or influenced the outcome of any games. The NFL also said it was satisfied no other members of the Falcons were involved. What Ridley did is wrong. Yes, the penalty feels harsh: he will lose a year of his athletic prime and $11m in salary over what he said was $1,500 in bets. And the proportionality raises eyebrows given the lesser punishments meted out for cheating scandals, lying about Covid vaccination status, literal child abuse and unspeakable acts of gender-based violence. But you can’t bet on your own sport, much less on your own team, and the NFL clearly needed to set a precedent.

Still, there’s something that feels off about making Ridley a splashy example at a time when the NFL is raking in millions of dollars in revenue from gambling, something it regarded as a corrosive element and fought tooth and nail against not that long ago. It is a dramatic pivot to go from a century’s worth of moral policing to, effectively, becoming a sportsbook with a bit of football on the side.

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