The legalization of sports betting, coupled with the NFL’s endorsement of multiple gambling sponsors, creates many concerns that would take careful thought, a well-crafted strategy, and lots of money to properly address to give the impression that the league is taking over the situation very seriously. The league arguably chose to throw the book at anyone who steps over the pretty light line of “thou shalt not bet” instead.
Violators who back things up shouldn’t get a one-year minimum sentence, no questions asked. Receiver Calvin Ridley, who bet approximately $1,500 on a five-game parlay during his absence with the Falcons in the 2021 season, drew a one-year minimum suspension. The league imposed the same penalty on Jets receiver coach Miles Austin despite not betting on football.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Austin (who made millions during his playing career) was betting about $50 here and there on basketball games. Little did he know he was being prevented from betting on sports other than football.
How could he not know, you might ask? The problem is that there are two standards. Players can bet on sports other than football; Coaches can’t do that. As the source explained, some coaches (especially former players-turned-coaches) are unaware of the distinction.
But the league doesn’t care. There is no explanation or discretion or anything other than “come back a year”.
And the league leaked the information to its internal media conglomerate before Austin’s appeal was decided. Two days before Christmas.
According to the source, Austin’s contract will expire after the season. Why not just let him end the year and walk away calmly?
Of course, that would have prevented the NFL from putting a head on a spike on the border of DraftKing’s landing.
Meanwhile, others receive far lesser penalties for arguably far greater insults to the game or The Shield. Six games for steroids. Six games, baseline, for domestic violence. Eleven games for Deshaun Watson’s expanded pattern of turning massage therapy sessions into sexual encounters.
The league will say that no type of gambling can be tolerated, requiring the extreme punishment of even the most benign cases – and even if the coach can truthfully say he didn’t know he couldn’t bet on other sports like football. That’s fine as long as the league brings the same energy to other areas where the intersection of football and legalized gambling can cause problems.
A simple (but unrealistic) approach would be to stop taking money from sports betting. The fact that Austin was banned for using an app created by a sportsbook that sponsors the NFL makes the whole thing seem crazy.
Of course, the horse has long since left the stable. The source of income is not given up, not at this point. But some of that money should be used to support the functioning (full-time officials to start with), to deploy technologies that support the functioning of games (e.g. cameras in all pylons) and to have clear and firm guidelines adopt and practices to protect inside information (e.g. violations that are not public knowledge).
Until the league clarifies that steps are being taken to avoid far greater threats to the integrity of the game than an assistant coach betting $50 on basketball games, every effort to publicly shame him and then at least ban him from the NFL push a year looks like window dressing aimed at giving the impression that the league takes the many threats posed by legalized gambling seriously.
Even if it isn’t.