CW: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault
Ben Lepper ’25
Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley made headlines back in October of last year when he announced that he was going to be stepping away from football to focus on his mental health. The former first round pick had already missed one game due to mental health concerns and decided to cut his season short after playing in only five games. Ridley received an outpouring of support on his announcement and went silent shortly after making it. Then, on March 4, Ridley tweeted “[football emoji] is life”, and followed it up with a few other cryptic tweets, including “I learn from my Ls.” It looked like Calvin Ridley was back and ready to play. Or so we thought.
On March 7, the NFL announced that Ridley would be suspended for the entire 2022 season for betting on NFL games. Over a five-day span in November, Ridley placed numerous parlay bets on games through an app on his phone. Some of these parlays included the Falcons winning, but never the Falcons losing. It’s also important to note that he never had inside information from the Falcons—when he placed the bets, he was out of state and not in contact with the team. Originally it was believed that he only bet $1,500, but recent reports show that he bet closer to $4000. He was caught because he placed his bets through one of the NFL’s gambling partners, who informed the NFL. Ridley, in response to his suspension, fired off a few tweets, including “I bet 1500 total I don’t have a gambling problem,” “I couldn’t even watch football at that point,” “Just gone be more healthy when I come back,” and “If you know me you know my character.” He has not tweeted since then, and appears to know that he made a mistake and will spend the next season preparing himself for the future.
Instantly, conversation started about the length of the suspension. Ridley was on the non-football injury list, away from the team, and out of the state. He wasn’t receiving inside information that would help his bets. He wasn’t even watching football. While he should have received a punishment, an entire year’s suspension seems to be too much. Players have done much worse and have been punished much less. For example, Ezekiel Elliot was only suspended six games in 2017 for beating his girlfriend at a music festival. Kareem Hunt was suspended eight games for kicking a woman at a hotel in 2018. Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in 2009 and recieved no punishment. He was accused again the very next year and was suspended six games, only serving four because of “good behavior.” Deshaun Watson is currently facing 22 lawsuits, many of which allege sexual misconduct and assault, and is set to join a new team next season and be their starting quarterback. There is a consistency issue. Calvin Ridley didn’t harm anyone. What he did was wrong, but he didn’t inflict harm on anyone else. And yet, his suspension is over twice as long as any of these.
The argument that he’s harming “the integrity of the game” has come up as an explanation for his suspension’s length. I think that argument is garbage, and here’s why. I watched at least one NFL game every week this season. In every game I saw, there was an advertisement for sports gambling. DraftKings, MGM Sportsbook, Caesars Sportsbook, FanDuel, etc. The NFL has partnered with these brands and is promoting sports betting, and that’s perfectly fine. What’s not fine is pretending that a player using these services that the NFL promotes while away from the team on a mental health break is somehow ruining “the integrity of the game.” The NFL is in no place to talk about integrity, as they let domestic abusers suit up week after week. For them to claim “integrity” now is pathetic.
I love football. I set everything aside every Sunday during the NFL season so I can watch a full day of games. But I can also recognize that there is something seriously wrong with the NFL and how they handle discipline. Calvin Ridley broke the NFL’s rules and should be punished, but a whole year’s suspension is utterly ridiculous, considering all of the factors. This is a problem in all of sports: the punishment almost never fits the incident. If the NFL is so worried about preserving the game’s integrity, they should start being more consistent and reasonable with their discipline.
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons