Somewhere in the great beyond, Bert Bell crosses his arms over his barrel chest and speaks these words to his direct successor, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: “I told you so.”
Bell was the most powerful commissioner in NFL history and was widely credited with saving the professional game during the difficult days after World War II. He’s the man who created the NFL Draft, convinced owners to split revenue to prevent franchises from natural dominance in bigger cities, insisted on schedules that allowed weaker teams to play each other early season to allow for competitive balance and came up with the overtime concept that in 1958 was responsible for the Baltimore Colts’ championship game overtime victory over Johnny Unitas, who is credited with catapulting professional play in the national consciousness.
Still, if you asked Bell what his most significant moment was, he’d say it was when he suspended Merle Hapes and Frank Filchock for allegedly failing to report an effort by professional players to fix the NFL championship game. of 1946. Hapes never played another game in the NFL and Filchock played less than a full season in 1950 after being reinstated while Bell waged an anti-gambling campaign that resulted in the signing of a resolution in the NFL Constitution that gave the Commissioner the power to permanently ban any NFL personnel found guilty of betting on NFL games or withholding information about an attempt to fix the result of an NFL game. He also demanded that teams publish weekly injury reports, thereby preventing players from receiving inside information; hired former law enforcement officials to investigate any gambling rumors and personally monitored weekly point spreads through its wide range of betting contacts across the country looking for unusual or sudden changes in odds or point spreads.
Bell was adamant in his belief that betting on the matches of players, coaches or officials would be the death of professional football as it could call into question the legitimacy of the results themselves. This anti-gambling vigilance continued until 2018, when the Supreme Court legalized sports betting across the United States, a decision that Goodell and NFL owners saw as legitimizing sports betting and thus transforming it. into a potential source of income.
Before long, Las Vegas, the nation’s gambling capital, had an NFL franchise, and NFL owners began partnerships with casinos and gaming companies that had launched online gambling and betting on fantasy football. A sport that once feared even the implication that it was involved with players has now embraced them.
In nearly 100 years of NFL football, the league had suspended only five players, including Hapes and Filchock, for betting on games or withholding information about efforts to fix a game. In the past three years alone, two players have been suspended for betting on games. when he took leave of absence to deal with mental health issues.
In a series of tweets after the suspension was announced, Ridley said he bet $1,500 in total and insisted he didn’t have a gambling problem. He also tweeted that he “couldn’t even watch football” at the time he made the bets. Maybe not, but apparently he could watch the weekly point spreads.
The NFL learned that Ridley placed three, five and eight team bets that included bets on the Falcons winning. These bets were made on a mobile device, the same type of mobile gaming device his NFL bosses have associated themselves with.
Ridley tweeted that he “knew he was wrong”, but also seemed to shed some light on the situation in several tweets, including saying “I’m a year old LOL”. It doesn’t sound like a young man knowing he was wrong. Frankly, why should he?
When the very teams he plays against and for advertise mobile gaming sites during their games and partner with casino games, mobile games and fantasy games, what message is sent to kids like Ridley? Certainly not the one that Bert Bell trumpeted in 1946 or that later Commissioners continued to categorically support.
Even Goodell was a vocal opponent of any involvement in even legalized gambling until recently, going so far as to ban Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo from appearing as a paid spokesman at a fantasy football convention in Las Vegas several years ago. Yet Goodell’s opposition to sports betting dissolved the moment the owners realized the Supreme Court had opened up a new source of income for them in 2018, so why would Ridley think that making a small deal with a sponsor? and a league partner would be a problem?
It has been nearly 40 years since an NFL player was suspended for playing. This has now happened twice in the last three seasons. If Goodell and the owners fail to see the connection between their decision to partner with legalized sports betting and the involvement of their young players in gambling betting, it is because they are choosing blindness without suffering from it.
In a letter to Ridley, Goodell said: “‘There is nothing more fundamental to the success of the NFL – and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league – than maintaining the integrity of the game. It is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official and anyone else employed in the league. Your actions endanger the integrity of the game, threaten to damage the public’s trust in professional football, and have potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL…For decades, the game over games of the NFL was considered one of the most significant violations of league policy warranting the heaviest penalty.
The NFL said its investigation found no evidence that Ridley used inside information or “that a game was compromised in any way,” but how could Ridley NOT have information? favored when some of his bets were placed on his own team? It’s absurd on the face of it, even though he had taken a break from playing to work on his personal metal-related health issues.
Yet the greatest danger to the game is not a player’s parlay bets. It’s the NFL’s decision to partner with the same players it believes threaten the integrity of the game. The NFL’s hypocrisy in this regard is obvious, dangerous and frankly confusing to guys like Ridley. If your league endorses the product, how bad can it be to use it?
It says in the Bible, in Galatians 6:7, “For whatever a man sows he will also reap.” To put it in more modern slang, if you sleep with dogs, you get fleas. The NFL made the choice years ago to enter the gaming industry, cleaning up what Bert Bell saw as the greatest threat to the sport. Already two of his players have been caught betting on NFL games. How long will it be before something much worse happens?