By: Kevin Lenahan
Calvin Ridley, when healthy, is the premier receiving threat for the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. He was not healthy this past season, however, as he was forced to step away from the game in order to address mental health issues. While away from the game, Ridley did what any sports fan with a phone and a few dollars to spare does when they watch sports nowadays, he placed a few bets on NFL games. While the wagers that Ridley placed only add up to $1,500, they would end up being much more costly than he imagined.
On March 7, 2022, the NFL announced that Calvin Ridley is suspended “for at least the 2022 season after gambling on games.” In a letter to the Falcons wide receiver, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell noted that “[Ridley’s] actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.” In addition to missing a year of play as he enters the prime of his career, Calvin Ridley will also be forced to forfeit $11.116 million in pay as a suspended player next year.
If Ridley’s suspension comes off as a bit harsh (1 year for placing 3 bets totaling $1,500), that’s because it is. For a comparison, Amani Bledsoe, a free agent edge rusher, was recently handed only a 6-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Also, Antonio Brown was given a mere 3-game suspension for using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card to lie about being properly vaccinated. In fact, the last time the NFL handed down a season-long suspension was in 2019, when Arizona Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw was banned from football for 16 months for placing multiple bets on NFL games while he was out with an injury.
The NFL’s current stance on its players gambling may seem just a bit hypocritical, especially when you consider the revenue that the league is collecting from their association with gambling companies such as FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, etc. According to The New York Times, “partnerships with sports gambling companies and casinos represented a significant chunk of the N.F.L.’s record $1.8 billion in sponsorship revenue.” This data shouldn’t come as a surprise though, as it is nearly impossible to watch an NFL game these days without seeing an advertisement for a gambling company.
It is, however, ironic that the longest player suspension this season came from doing the exact same thing that the NFL is making hundreds of millions of dollars promoting to fans across the nation to engage in. The league has no shame feeding its audience an endless supply of gambling advertisements, but will quickly hand out a season-long suspension to Calvin Ridley, for participating in said activity three times. Because of the suspension, Ridley cannot apply for reinstatement into the NFL until February 15, 2023.
As absurd as the current suspension is, it does not appear that Ridley will be able to have it lifted or reduced in any way. The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect on March 15, 2020 and runs until 2030, lists player’s gambling on NFL games as an offense worthy of either fines or suspensions, or both. In fact, the amount of money for fines, the length of suspensions, and the overall seriousness of the punishment is left to the discretion of the Commissioner. There’s no doubt that Roger Goodell was serious when he levied the season-long suspension on Ridley in order to “uphold the integrity of the game” and send a message to the rest of the league, but he must see the hypocrisy of the punishment. Ridley was wrong, of course, but to defend a year-long suspension amidst a tsunami of revenue from gambling partnerships is ironic at best.
 Ben Morse, Atlanta Falcons Star Calvin Ridley to ‘Step Away from Football’ to Focus on Mental Health, CNN (Nov. 1, 2021, 8:08 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/01/sport/calvin-ridley-mental-wellbeing-atlanta-falcons-spt-intl/index.html.
 Michael Rothstein, NFL Suspends Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley for At Least 2022 Season for Betting on Games, ESPN (Mar. 7, 2022), https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/33446869/nfl-suspends-atlanta-falcons-wr-calvin-ridley-least-2022-season-betting-games.
 See id.
 Kevin Patra, Falcons WR Calvin Ridley Suspended Indefinitely Though at Least 2022 Season for Betting on NFL Games, NFL (Mar. 7, 2022, 3:41 PM), https://www.nfl.com/news/falcons-wr-calvin-ridley-suspended-indefinitely-through-2022-season-for-betting-.
 Cody Benjamin, Former Bengals, Titans Pass Rusher Amani Bledsoe Suspended Six Games for Violating PED Policy, CBS Sports (Feb. 22, 2022, 6:44 PM), https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/former-bengals-titans-pass-rusher-amani-bledsoe-suspended-six-games-for-violating-ped-policy/.
 Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown Suspended 3 Games for COVID-19 Violation, ESPN (Dec. 2, 2021), https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/32772245/tampa-bay-buccaneers-wr-antonio-brown-suspended-3-games-covid-19-violation.
 Phil McCausland, NFL Player Josh Shaw Suspended Through 2020 for Betting on Games, NBC News (Nov. 29, 2019, 4:29 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/nfl-player-josh-shaw-suspended-through-2020-betting-games-n1093496.
 David W. Chen, The N.F.L.’s About-Face on Sports Gambling, The N.Y. Times (Feb. 10, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/sports/nfl-bets-gambling.html#:~:text=This%20past%20year%2C%20partnerships%20with,a%20piece%20of%20the%20action..
 NFL Fines and Suspensions, Spotrac, https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/fines-suspensions/2021/suspensions/ (last visited Apr. 2, 2022).
 Conor Orr, Calvin Ridley’s Suspension is More Proof the NFL Always Punishes Players More than Owners, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 7, 2022), https://www.si.com/nfl/2022/03/07/calvin-ridley-gambling-suspension-business-usual.
 See Rothstein, supra note 2.
 NFLPA, Collective Bargaining Agreement 357 (2020), https://nflpaweb.blob.core.windows.net/website/PDFs/CBA/March-15-2020-NFL-NFLPA-Collective-Bargaining-Agreement-Final-Executed-Copy.pdf.
 See id.
 Patra, supra note 5.