The N.F.L.’s Betting Penalties Put Ideal of ‘Integrity’ to the Test


Instead, the N.F.L.’s indefinite suspensions, with the possibility of return, serve as an effective ban on fringe players while leaving the door open for stars who bet on football to return to play.

Calvin Ridley, who was suspended for the 2022 season for gambling on the sport, can return once he has served his suspension. But for less impactful contributors like Rodgers and Berry, a path back to football is less clear.

Indefinite suspensions aren’t a recent solution in the N.F.L. In 1947, Commissioner Bert Bell indefinitely suspended Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes of the New York Giants for “acts detrimental to the N.F.L. and pro football” after they were allegedly offered bribes to fix that year’s championship game, though neither player accepted. Filchock’s suspension was lifted in 1950, and he played in only one more game. Hapes’s suspension was lifted after seven years, and he never played another down.

That scandal compelled Bell to expand the N.F.L.’s betting surveillance, including by hiring former F.B.I. investigators to keep tabs on league officials and gamblers alike. Team owners also granted him the unilateral authority to impose a lifetime ban on anyone involved in gambling on the sport. In 1963, Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended two players for 11 months for betting, despite finding no evidence that they tried to influence the outcome of a game.

The next player penalties for betting on football came in 2019, when the Arizona Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended through the end of the 2020 season for betting on N.F.L. games. (Shaw was reinstated in 2021 but has not played in an N.F.L. game since.)

The recent spate of gambling infractions may eventually force the league to consider harsher punishment, an outcome that would need to be agreed upon by the N.F.L. players’ union. The volume and star status of player bettors could give both sides incentive to go further to protect confidence in football games, said Michael LeRoy, a professor and sports labor expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Let’s just say, hypothetically, that the league really digs into this kind of investigating and they find that 100 or more players are gambling,” he said, “so that you would have a massive disruption of team rosters. That’s the kind of thing that, I would think, would induce the parties to come to the table and bargain over this.”

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