NFL Wades Deeper Into Betting Controversies

The NFL is, undoubtedly, the biggest and most influential brand in the U.S. sports market. For decades, the league eschewed betting entirely, often putting on airs to “protect the shield.” Now, however, the league has jumped head-first into the wagering ecosystem, and is dealing with a flurry of related scandals as a result. Could we be approaching a tipping point?

NFL Wades Deeper Into Betting Controversies

In 1963, Alex Karras and Paul Hornung got hit with NFL suspensions for the season for sports betting. Back then, such gambling was done through illegal channels or in Las Vegas. Lots of headlines, but did it ruin the careers of either player? They are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You be the judge.

In this day and age, with sports betting legal in more than half the states and the District of Columbia, you might think it is acceptable except betting on your own team. It’s not.

The NFL suspended Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for the entire 2022 season. Josh Shaw received a suspension in 2019.

The latest investigation focuses on Indianapolis Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, according to Sports Handle. Rodgers owned up to the betting accusations, taking full responsibility. He was set to earn $2.743 million in base salary in 2023. But a suspension could cut into that.

“I know I have made mistakes and I am willing to do whatever it takes to repair the situation,” Rodgers told ESPN. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was to be a distraction to the Colts organization, my coaches, and my teammates. I’ve let people down that I care about.”

Rodgers, a sixth-round pick, is entering the last year of a four-year, $3.4 million contract. He allegedly placed around 100 small bets, nothing over $100.

“The IGC is not the lead agency on this matter, as it involves alleged violations of a league policy at this point,” Jenny Reske, deputy director at the Indiana Gaming Commission, wrote in an emailed statement to ESPN. “We will, however, continue to review information as it emerges to determine what, if any, regulatory actions are necessary.”

This comes just weeks after the last high-profile incident, in which Detroit Lions wide receivers Jameson Williams and Stanley Berryhill received six-game suspensions for placing bets while located on team property.

Their teammates, receiver Quintez Cephus and safety C. J. Moore, were suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games directly, but both were released before the suspensions came through.

Reports have since surfaced that an unnamed fifth player on the team is also currently under investigation.

Washington Commanders defensive end Shaka Toney was also suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games—the team has since expressed its displeasure with the young defender, but as of writing Toney is still on the Commanders’ roster.

Although the NFL has widely embraced sports betting and has sponsorship deals with sportsbooks, the league explicitly prohibits players from betting on NFL games. Players are also prohibited, as mentioned earlier, from placing bets on any games while at NFL facilities.

In 2018, the NFL set guidelines for players and those associated with the league. The league’s policy says: “All NFL personnel are prohibited from placing, soliciting, or facilitating any bet, whether directly or indirectly through a third-party, on any NFL game, practice or other event.”

In its next line, the league policy says: “All NFL personnel other than players are further prohibited from placing, soliciting, or facilitating bets on any other professional (e.g., NBA, MLB, NHL, PGA, USTA, MLS), college (e.g., NCAA basketball), international (e.g., World Baseball Classic, World Cup), or Olympic sports competition, tournament or event.”

The policy also says that NFL personnel with a gambling debt to another person or business of $10,000 or more must report it to the league’s security department.

It’s worth mentioning that the NFL signed deals with DraftKings, FanDuel, and Caesars Entertainment in April 2021 that reportedly could be worth about $1 billion to the league over five years, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In addition, players and personnel are not allowed to set foot in sportsbooks during the NFL season, but the policy does not mention anything about gambling at a sportsbook during the offseason. (Players and personnel are allowed to simply pass through a sportsbook if it is necessary at their hotel.)

Before this year, only five players dating back to 1963 were suspended by the NFL for gambling violations, and two of them over the last four years.

While some teams and coaches have been slow to adjust to the new reality, others have made it a priority, due to the fact that suspensions to key players can have huge impacts on team success.

The great Bill Belichick, for one, has made it a point to tell his team this offseason that betting on NFL football is not a gamble worth taking. Belichick has made sure that his players are clear on the league’s gambling policy with some extensive meetings on the matter during the team’s offseason program.

“Bill Belichick actually talked about that in very large detail,” defensive lineman Deatrich Wise told WBZ after OTA’s in Foxboro. “He always tells us what we need to do, what we need to stay away from. We had a whole meeting just about that. We do a good job of learning from coach Belichick.”