Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for at least the entire 2022 season for gambling on NFL games last year, one of the harshest penalties a major American sports league has done out since rushing to embrace an expansion of legalized wagering on games.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement on Monday that Ridley, 27, placed bets on NFL games during a five-day period in late November 2021 when he was away from the club to focus on his mental health.
After an investigation, the league “uncovered no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way,” Goodell said in the statement. “Nor was there evidence suggesting any awareness by coaches, staff, teammates, or other players of his betting activity.”
Still, Goodell said the “integrity of the game” is fundamental to the league’s success, and Ridley put that integrity at risk.
Ridley placed three parlay bets between Nov. 23 and Nov. 28 on the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app while he was in Florida, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. Genius Sports, which monitors sports betting data for the league, alerted the NFL that a player might be behind those bets. The NFL’s investigation found that Ridley’s bets included a wager on the Falcons to win.
Soon after the NFL announced the suspension, Ridley wrote on Twitter: “I bet 1500 total I don’t have a gambling problem,” later adding that he couldn’t watch football at that point.
He then posted: “I know I was wrong but I’m getting 1 year lol.”
Ridley’s agent, Ben Setas, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Ridley announced on Oct. 31, 2021 that he would step away from the team because of a mental health issue.
“These past few weeks have been very challenging and as much as I’d like to be on the field competing with my teammates, I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental well being,” Ridley said in a statement posted to his social media accounts. “This will help me be the best version of myself now and in the future.
A four-year NFL veteran, Ridley had his best season in 2020 when he caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards. Last season, he played in just five games. The team exercised his fifth-year option for the 2022 season last spring.
The Falcons said in a statement that they first learned on the league’s investigation on Feb. 9, and that they “support the league’s findings and actions.”
Ridley can appeal his suspension within three days, and can ask to be reinstated on or after Feb. 15, 2023.
Ridley’s suspension is the NFL’s first sports gambling-related penalty imposed on a player since 2019, when the league suspended Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw for the remainder of that season. Shaw was on the injured reserved list at the time, and was suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season as well as the 2020 season. He has not played in the NFL since.
Before Shaw’s suspension, the NFL had not penalized a player for gambling on games in more than two decades.
The most well-known punishments for sports gambling-related infractions in the NFL occurred in 1963 when then-commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive end Alex Karras for the entire season for betting on football games.
Since Shaw’s suspension, the thick walls that long separated the NFL from the gambling industry have crumbled. After decades of opposing sports wagering, the league has signed major sponsorship deals with casinos, the Raiders now play their home games in Las Vegas, and the draft and Super Bowl will be held there in the coming months.
Television broadcasts of NFL games this season were blanketed with advertisements from sports books trying to attract new customers.
In April 2021, the NFL hired Genius Sports to provide “comprehensive integrity services to monitor betting” on all NFL games, and provide “education programs to ensure the continuation of the NFL’s high standard for integrity.”
The league provides training to more than 17,000 NFL personnel, including workers on game days and stadium personnel. The basic message is not to bet on NFL games or pass along inside information about the games. (Players are, however, allowed to bet on baseball and other sports.)
But with tens of millions of people opening online sports wagering accounts, and players and other NFL personnel capable of using other people’s accounts to place bets, the league will be challenged to keep track of everyone’s activities.
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