The NFL’s Harsh Suspension of Calvin Ridley Is About Money, Not Morality

The NFL has always been all about making cash, and making decisions to that end is far from hypocritical

Calvin Ridley of the Falcons looks on prior to the start of a 2019 game
Calvin Ridley of the Falcons looks on prior to the start of a 2019 game.
Carmen Mandato/Getty

Following the news that the National Football League had suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for at least the 2022 season — and possibly longer — for violating the league’s policy on members of the NFL betting on football games, it didn’t take long for hot takes about the hypocrisy of the NFL to pour in.

To be clear, there are a number of areas where the NFL is blatantly hypocritical. As Brian Flores’s recent lawsuit makes fairly clear, the NFL preaches racial equality and support of the Black Lives Matter movement despite having a jarring lack of people of color in positions of power within the league. Also, while perhaps not quite as serious, the NFL has a very inconsistent stance on marijuana usage, including for the treatment of pain.

One area where the NFL has never been anything other than crystal clear is in the league’s desire to make money and lots of it. In order for the NFL to continue to be able to do that, fans, consumers and — thanks to the widespread legalization of sports betting — gamblers need to have 100% confidence that the product the league is putting on the field is on the level and not predetermined. Without that assurance, the NFL would just become pro wrestling with helmets, better athletes and way, way more fans. Keeping those fans, and their betting dollars, is paramount.

That’s why the NFL had to throw the book at Ridley and keep him from catching passes on the field for at least a year. It doesn’t matter that betting $1,500 is going to end up costing him $11 million in salary or that he was on mental health leave away from the Falcons at the time the bets were placed. Nor does it matter that Ridley wasn’t using any inside information, wasn’t trying to fix any of the games he was wagering on and also clearly didn’t know what he was doing as evidenced by placing longshot parlays of as many as eight teams. The NFL, which has employed plenty of domestic abusers, racists, drug users and other unsavory characters over the years, has one unbreakable rule: pro football players cannot bet on pro football.

“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. For once, he’s right.

Call it hypocritical for a league that is in bed with the gambling industry to not allow its players to bet on football if you want, but it has nothing to do with morality. It has to do with money — and the league has always been transparent that’s what it values above everything else.

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