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The Gambling Epidemic Sweeping the NFL

With the rise of legalized sports betting, the entire United States seem to have been entranced by the ability to bet on games that they have been watching, learning, and studying for years of their lives.

Recently, this temptation has reached the NFL with an unprecedented six players being handed out season-long bans for gambling on NFL games, with additional bans being announced today, June 28.

This may seem like a very small number, but in comparison in a 58-year span from 1963-2021, there were just four players that got suspended for gambling.

The tricky part for the NFL is that almost nobody believes they are doing the right thing. With every suspension that gets handed out, the backlash from fans gets louder and louder.

Why Gambling Suspensions are Unnecessary

Athletes have been gambling on the sports that they play since the creation of sport. The most famous case is the 1919 Black Sox who allegedly lost World Series games on purpose.

While they were not betting on the games physically, they were said to be paid between $70,000 and $100,000 for each loss in games three through five. The team intentionally lost games for money and subsequently were banned for life.

However, the difference between the 1919 Black Sox and almost all of the NFL players who have been suspended for gambling is that the football players are not intentionally losing games and they are not betting against themselves. Every NFL player to be suspended for gambling either bet on their teams or unrelated games. Why should this be a crime?

Gambling as a Coping Mechanism

While it may not be morally correct, the two most prominent players to get suspended up to this point both did it to cope with their situations. These players are Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley and the Lions’ young receiver Jameson Williams.

Ridley released a piece to The Player’s Tribune – A website for players to write about personal situations – that received a lot of media attention and respect from his peers.

In the piece Ridley would detail the mental battles he fought while injured with the Falcons, His team at the time of the incident.

He talked about how football was his entire life, so when he got injured, he became severely depressed and angry at the world. He had no idea what to do with himself. This is where gambling comes in.

Ridley spoke about how gambling was his escape from the time off and really helped his depression. Not the gambling itself, but the involvement, the hyper fixation on his team made him feel as close to playing the game as he could possibly be.

Perhaps the most disheartening part of the story is that Ridley bet just $1,500 in total. To the average person that may be a lot, but for someone who has earned over $10 million in their career, $1,500 is pocket change.

While Jameson Williams has not released any quotes or pieces about his suspension, it would be safe to assume that he had some of the same reasons for gambling as Ridley. Oddly enough, Williams was also hurt when he was betting on games.

He played just six games during his rookie season and caught just one pass, meaning he was barely involved in the offense. As a highly touted college prospect, gambling was likely one of the things that made the injury easier on him.

Where to Go from Here

It is clear that the NFL has a situation on their hands, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. While it is against NFL guidelines to gamble on games, players are not betting against themselves or their team. If anything, betting on you and your team can give you a little extra motivation to play harder.

The league is cracking down on gambling, but the players aren’t listening. Year-long suspensions are not a reasonable punishment for the “crime” and if the NFL doesn’t come to a compromise, they could have a nasty problem on their hand

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