The final section of Playmakers, out in eight days, focuses on the challenges the NFL faces in the immediate future. Most of those challenges come from gambling.
The news that Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for a full year, minimum, for betting on NFL games is the tip of a gigantic iceberg into which the RMS NFL may be inevitably careening.
Gambling is now saturating the game, with the league having SEVEN (a fitting number, I suppose) gambling sponsorships. Gambling ads are everything. It’s accepted. It’s normal. It’s permitted. For everyone except those who are connected to the game, that is.
In the days of illegal gambling, players had to have a bookie, or a connection to one. It took work, effort. They knew they were crossing a line. They knew they possibly would get caught.
Today, all you need is a phone. That’s what Ridley reportedly did. He downloaded the app, and he placed bets.
Are we sufficiently naive to think he’s the only one? He’s simply the first one to be caught.
And for every player foolish enough to bet on his own phone in his own name, there will be others who work through a straw man, a friend or a family member who places the action and funnels the winnings (if there are any) to the player. It will take much more work to catch them.
Already, we’re hearing scattered rumors about other high-profile players who may be gambling on games, too. It definitely becomes a key part of the homework that teams must do when considering the acquisition of a given player, via free agency, trade, or draft.
Players, coaches, and other team and league employees engaging in the very activity that the league is selling to millions of fans — gambling on games — is just part of the problem. Legalized gambling brings many other potential concerns. In Playmakers, I tried to identify as many of them as possible, based on conversations with people in position to be thinking about these issues and potentially solving them.
The stakes are very high for the NFL. If the league fails, Congress inevitably will establish a federal agency that regulates the NFL. While that may be the last thing the NFL wants, it may also be exactly what the NFL needs.