Point-Counterpoint: Calvin Ridley, Gambling, and The NFL’s “Integrity Problem”

As J-Dub and I were rubbing our sticks together trying to make fire, discussing the Brian Flores lawsuit as a potential impetus for change (or not), another black eye hit the NFL.  Don’t worry though, sports fans.  The league office took a swift stance and convinced us they’re putting their foot down on the scourge of sports gambling.  Just not anything else.

The league recently suspended Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver indefinitely for gambling on NFL games.  One of the teams Ridley gambled on was his own.

The NFL, like most other professional and college (which are professional) sports leagues, has a strict no-gambling policy.  Players are not allowed to gamble on their sport.  Period.  There is zero tolerance, as viewed by their hard line on Ridley.

Considering there is no way we’re going to mull through this post without bringing up the names Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, let’s get that out of the way now.  The reason those two baseball greats are not in the Hall of Fame, their reputations forever blemished, is because they, one way or another, were involved in gambling scandals.  Jackson was on the take (allegedly) as his Chicago White Sox threw the World Series a century ago and Rose gambled on baseball as a manager of the Reds.  The reason we are currently shaming Ridley is because he committed that same crime: he bet on his own sport.  This case, for me at least, doesn’t seem to carry the same gravity.

Even though I gamble, I have traditionally maintained a firm no-gambling policy for athletes.  I’ve bought into the whole it-tears-at-the-integrity-of-the-game argument that the league has force-fed me for ages, hinting that when what we’re watching is predetermined or thrown, then what’s the point of watching.  Players involved in those contests should not be allowed to gamble on those contests.


These days, gambling on sports is becoming legalized throughout America, just as is medical marijuana, a related story but a story for another time.  I challenge you to turn on your television to catch any sporting event and not find a bloated, toga-clad and far too unfunny Patton Oswald trying to pitch you the Caesar’s Palace sportsbook app.  Caesar’s is now bad, it’s nationwide (just not in Florida).  There are currently thirty U.S. states that allow legalized gambling in one form or another, with more to come.  That’s a far cry from a few years ago when the only place you could legally wager was Las Vegas. 

Amid changing times, sports leagues may want to rethink or perhaps soften their stance on gambling.  Your first reaction might still be to side with the hard line, as in no athlete participating in the sport should be allowed to wager on the game in which he’s playing, or on any sport at all.  That makes perfect sense and always has.  For example, Calvin Ridley could place a wager on his Falcons to lose (which is probably a wise wager) then intentionally stop catching passes en route to cashing a ticket.  The idealist in me believes professional athletes have trained their entire lives to play a sport their competitive nature won’t allow them to lose.  But clearly, that’s not always the case. 

I’m all for maintaining a hard anti-gambling line but to suspend Ridley for the year or potentially more sounds reactionary and tells me the league is up to its old tricks.  The NFL professes to be all about the integrity of its sport, yet they remain quiet on one of its 32 owners (and probably more) incentivizing coaches to lose games intentionally.  I can’t be the only one who sees the hypocrisy.

We’re talking about a league that once suspended players four games for smoking marijuana but only two for beating their spouses.  In addition, we just saw a team guarantee a player $260 million who is still in the middle of a civil lawsuit for multiple counts of sexual impropriety.

Because I can never get enough point/counterpointing with the realist down the block who keeps me in check, I once again turn to the honorable J-Dub, former bookie, fellow gambler and long-time football aficionado for his take on the Ridley suspension and the future of professional sports leagues when it comes to widespread legalized gambling.

Dubs, were you surprised in any way by the league’s hard line on Ridley, do you see any double standards here and do you possibly see sports leagues changing the way they either allow or disallow their players to gamble on sports?


As the so-called “realist down the block,” let me inject some hard-core truth into this discussion. 

First, I need to do a bit of housekeeping. 

  1. That’s one hell of a “block,” Chump and I live 1,000 miles apart, so going from one end of it to the other could involve changing planes in Atlanta.
  2. Patton Oswalt hasn’t been funny since Reno 911.  That’s why he’s down to Caesar’s ads with Muggsy Bogues and Clyde Drexler. That…in and of itself…should tell you something.
  3. Despite what the Supreme Court, whatever number of states, and the Chump say, gambling is still illegal at Bushwood, sir if you are a player, coach, or are directly connected to the product on the field in any manner in which you can influence the outcome of games while they are being played.

In other words, while Chump and I live 1,000 miles apart, that’s a mere trip down to the Kwik-e-Mart for a six-pack compared to the distance between us on this issue.  Here’s how I’m going to walk you through that journey.

Let’s start with the word “but.” That might be one of my favorite words in all the English language because it really means “ignore everything I just said.” Chump does that to perfection here. He talks about having been firmly on “Team no gambling for players,” BUT then constructs an argument to get around the “integrity of the game” constraint he believes has been force-fed to him.

He’s selling an argument all about the NFL’s hypocrisy.  It’s a great strategy, because damming the river that is the NFL’s hypocrisy would yield a reservoir with which one could irrigate the entire Sahara Desert.  I have huge issues with what the Cleveland Browns did with the Deshaun Watson contract, and I can’t believe the NFL is letting them get away with structuring a deal which is completely designed to eliminate Watson losing game checks when he is ultimately suspended. Again, suspending guys for four games for puffing reefer while players who punched their wife only got two more than suggests the NFL has a really fucked up value system.

Chump’s approach to a pro-gambling argument actually spells out exactly why the NFL has no choice but to maintain a hardline, “no gambling “stance.  Everything that he mentions range from the truly deplorable to the outright corrupt, and they are all doing a wonderful job of portraying Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league he runs as a bunch of boobs who could fuck up a grilled cheese sandwich.  And they are.

But despite the fact this league is full of wife beaters, serial drunk drivers, various violent felons and general reprobates, nobody thinks those guys don’t show up to win on Sunday (insert Herm Edwards’ “Hello you play to win the game!” soundbite here). You can’t say the same thing about gamblers.

That whole “being force-fed” comment about the “integrity of the game” concept tells me you have an issue with that argument.  I can understand that because it really isn’t about the “integrity of the game.”

Integrity IS the game.

Think about it. Football became the “top dog” of American sports because it is television-friendly and relatively easy to understand at the elementary level… which makes it ideal for gambling. That’s why more money changes hands via wagering on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day on the American calendar. In other words, the river of hypocrisy flowing from the NFL is fed by the torrential amount of cash cascading into it…most of which comes from television…and gambling feeds television.

You mentioned I’m an ex-bookie.  I will tell you from first-hand experience that the life-blood of all gambling is faith. Obviously, there’s the faith gamblers have in their instincts; otherwise they wouldn’t be gamblers. But more importantly, there’s the faith gamblers have that the game they are playing isn’t rigged by external forces against them. 

If you still aren’t buying the “integrity” and “faith” thing, let me put this another way.  Investing in the stock market is every bit as much gambling as whatever you might lay down on a football game.  The only thing worse than playing a rigged is being the one who rigs it.  This is why stockbrokers have serious rules against “insider trading;” it’s the same reason why professional sports leagues have such strict rules against gambling.

In other words, what started out about “integrity” is now about money.  Once you have players gambling on any sport, the equivalent of “insider trading” is the next stop.  Wall Street guys get busted doing it all the time, and they get kicked out of the game when they get caught, not because of “integrity,” but because they erode the faith in the system.  In sports, it will take literally no time at all for “you fix my game, and I’ll fix yours” rackets to pop up.  Regardless of the league, once the gamblers lose faith in the game, the bets will stop coming.  When the gambling goes away, a lot of the television viewership will go with it…and that means everybody loses.

So, when Chump says he doesn’t think what Calvin Ridley did rises to the level of others who were kicked off the island for gambling.  It’s actually worse.  Instead of threatening the “integrity of the game,” he’s fucking with everybody’s money.


I never thought I’d see the day where J-Dub shows his true colors.  Look for him next time you’re in Las Vegas.  He’ll be the one first in line for Cyndi Lauper concert tickets.

After that last rant, I’m starting to think you’re an idealist after all.  And all along I thought I was the communist in this party.

Integrity IS the game?  Is that the motto you hand slap on the wood panel above your front door every time you leave the house in the morning?  How very Domer of you.

You can spare me where-the-integrities-roam malarkey while we are investigating whether a coach lost games because his boss paid him to do so.  Where’s the integrity in that?  The only reason the NFL hasn’t pursued this matter any further is because other owners are doing the same thing. 

We know NFL owners are untouchable.  In addition to Stephen Ross’ tampering and game-throwing about, you have Dan Snyder walking around FedEx Field wearing nothing but a towel, playing grab-ass with his secretaries more than his quarterback does his center with no one doing a damn thing about it.  The guy is under investigation for cooking two sets of books yet we’re shipping Ridley into exile for betting a grand on an eight-teamer while he was on injured reserve.

You can’t tell me integrity is the game when owners are throwing them.  To me that’s far more of an insider trading violation than Ridley suddenly “having a bad game.”  Let’s say Stephen Ross pays Brian Flores $100,000 to lose on purpose (allegedly) then has some sharp three steps removed bet ten times that amount on his team to lose so he can turn a tidy profit. 

For years, professional sport has kept gambling at arm’s length, which has correspondingly kept a stigma attached to gambling.  I agree with you.  Pro sports league must walk that fine line, understanding that widespread gambling means more viewership, and more revenue, but also more Calvin Ridley’s. 

Athletes play fantasy sports.  That’s just legalized gambling light.  While I understand a player gambling on the game in which he’s involved erodes faith in the system, no one seems to be taken aback by the guys calling the shots doing the same thing. 

You suggest the NFL must maintain its hard line, but I can’t get past the inherent double standard, and I feel like I’m the only one who sees it.  If we polled 100 sports fans and asked them which they found more offensive a) a player gambling on his sport or b) an owner losing games intentionally for a higher draft pick, you’d get more people’s panties ruffled by answer a).  That’s how badly the wool has been pulled over our eyes when we both know answer c) just let them play the games is the one all sports fans prefer.

The mini-idealist J-Dub on my left shoulder tells me players gambling on sports erodes the game’s integrity but the mini-realist J-Dub on the other shoulder whispers that integrity was a rouse all along.  And both are wearing Cyndi Lauper concert t-shirts.

I guess what I’m saying is, suspensions like Ridley’s give the game a bad look when the game weighs itself above all else.  A player can’t cheat the game, but he can cheat his own character at minimal cost.  I’m just not sure that makes much sense considering there is no integrity without the character of the men that play it.  And if throwing games were that big of a deal, if the game were truly self-correcting, Calvin Ridley would find himself corrected the next time he crossed the middle by a safety whose honor was firmly entrenched in the game’s so-called integrity.

Conclusion by J-Dub

IIf nothing else, my esteemed comrade SportsChump is consistent. Whenever he comes up short is one of these pieces, he resorts to deflection. By trying to call me a “communist,” The Chump is channeling his inner “Early Saturday Night Live Dan Akroyd;” and this is just his version of “J-Dub, you ignorant slut!” Frankly, I think he may have done his best “Dan Akroyd-Julia Child” impression while slicing whatever bartenders slice, and the loss of blood fogged his brain. It seems he can’t tell the difference between the integrity of the league itself and that of the game on the field.

First of all, I’d like the Chump to point out where I ever defended accused sleaze-bag Stephen Ross or known sleaze-bag Daniel Snyder. If the “pay-for-tanking” allegations against Ross prove to be true, and the same happens with the cash-skimming accusations being leveled at Snyder…well, that’s just shooting fish in a barrel.

I’ll start with Snyder because he’s the one who really doesn’t have anything to do with this (hence, the “deflection”)…and he’s the easiest to deal with here because running some sticky fingers through the cash register still isn’t screwing with the product on the field. If all the stuff they say he did is true, there are a lot of juicy federal statues being violated, which could lead to prosecution and possibly some jail time. Problem solved.

The case of Stephen Ross gets a bit more complicated because a) the accusations against him are harder to prove and b) they are coming out as part of Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL. Chump and I discussed that matter, and then as now, I think that’s an ugly divorce where both sides might be dirty. Allow me to quote myself here…

…the allegation against Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross that he offered $100,000 per game to deliberately lose in 2019.

If proven to be true, this is “Black Sox Scandal”-level bad for the NFL. This is the kind of stuff that kicks off FBI investigations and gets people tossed into the slammer on federal enterprise corruption charges. You can look through that entire lawsuit, and this is the only thing which rises to the “criminal” level. Everything else is a civil matter, but the history of sports in America…not just football…is full of guys who went to prison for fixing games.

Having said that, here’s my alternate theory as to what this lawsuit is really all about. Start with the idea that Ross and Flores at one point were in bed together, likely over the “pay for losing” scheme. Ross made the offer and Flores took the money, which makes them both dirty. That makes their relationship all about “I won’t tell if you don’t.” But then something changed the equation, namely whatever it was that got Flores fired (which is never mentioned, only a reference to a “tampering” scheme).


Unlike Chump, I’m not ready to call the firing squad on just the accusation; I’m a firm believer in due process. But if my theory were found to be correct, if I were the Commissioner, there would be lifetime bans for both…or anybody else who engaged in such behavior.

Here’s why.

One of the “selling points” of the communism of which the Chump is accusing me is “equality.” Gambling lives on the same illusion. Successfully installing a communist regime means selling people on the idea that it levels the playing field for the “little guy.” Gambling lives and dies on the idea of a “clean game.”

Gamblers like the Chump and ex-bookies like me both know any game is always slanted toward “the house.” No matter what, you’ve got to pay “the juice.” The key here is you know that going in; that’s equality of opportunity; anybody can play as long as they know the rules and are willing to lay down their money. Likewise, what destroyed Soviet-style communism is the very same cancer which eats the foundation out from under legitimate gambling. People will only stand in line for toilet paper and cigarettes before they realize the game is not stacked in their favor. Likewise, Las Vegas would dry up and blow away like an enormous desert tumbleweed if they think the game is rigged against them.

Here’s where we get into a double-helix of irony even Alanis Morrisette couldn’t comprehend. Nothing generates interest in sports quite like gambling; hence everything from “bar bets,” everything Vegas does, and the burgeoning world of on-line gaming provides both direct and indirect revenue streams (don’t forget “Jerrah” Jones and Robert Kraft were big investors in DraftKings). However the same force that brings that tide of cash can also wash away interest in any sport if people think games are being fixed.

At the same time, gambling lives off the temptation of “easy money,” and yet the sports leagues people want to gamble on need to keep their people away from that very same temptation. In other words, they cannot under any circumstances allow anybody to screw with the equality of outcome. Bettors simply won’t play if they think somebody’s got their thumb on the scale.

Think of it this way, Chump…how long would your bar stay open if you took the patron’s money, but your staff pounded all the drinks? Again, that’s why stockbrokers can’t trade “insider” information, and why anybody who can influence the outcome of games are not allowed to gamble. Period.

Does the NFL have an “integrity” problem? We all know it does. We all know that because we’ve all seen how it has fucked up nearly every other issue it’s tried to deal with. But gambling is an issue for which it has precedent and an established play book…and a clear boundary delineating what is acceptable and what isn’t. Don’t forget the NFL suspended two of it’s biggest stars (Paul Hornung and Alex Karras) for a full season in 1963 for betting on football. The last thing the league needs is another scandal like that…or worse yet…another Art Schlichter. Dealing with Calvin Ridley was an easy (and correct) decision even that true communist Kommissar Goodell couldn’t fuck up.

Now that I’ve brought the reality back to this situation, I want two things noted for the record. One, I never had to mention “Shoeless Joe” or Pete Rose. Two, I’ve never owned a Cyndi Lauper T-Shirt in my life. Now, having a leather thong that spells out “She-Bop” in metal studs is another story…

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