By Seth Corwin, UNH Law Student and Legal Intern
Last week, the NFL suspended five players for violating its anti-gambling policy. Under the NFL’s anti-gambling poli, cy, players are forbidden from placing wagers on NFL games and cannot place wagers on any events while at team facilities, even if they are unrelated to the NFL. The players involved include the 2022 12th overall pick and wide receiver Jameson Williams, wide receivers Quintez Cephus and Stanley Berryhill, and safety C.J. Moore, all from the Detroit Lions. The other player that was suspended is Washington Commanders defensive end, Shaka Toney.
Importantly, Williams and Berryhill only received six game suspensions for placing non-NFL related wagers while at their team facilities. Cephus, Moore, and Toney, received indefinite suspensions for placing wagers on NFL games and can apply for reinstatement after the completion of the 2023 NFL season. Notably, the Lions immediately released Cephus and Moore when the news dropped last week, stating in a press release that the two, “exhibited decision making that is not consistent with our organizational values and violates league rules.” The Lions did not cut Williams or Berryhill, but this is likely because their violations were less. Still many observers have argued that the Lions are giving preferential treatment to Williams because of his football skills, even though Berryhill, who only played in four games last season, was also not cut.
The news of the suspensions comes a little more than a year after 2018 first-round draft pick and wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, was suspended indefinitely for placing six mobile bets on the Atlanta Falcons, all totaling around $3,900. At the time, Ridley was on a leave of absence from the Falcons for mental health reasons. Like Williams, Ridley was not cut by his team. Subsequently, Ridley missed the entire 2022 NFL season, and while suspended, was traded from the Falcons to the Jaguars immediately prior to the 2022 NFL trade deadline. Ridley is slated to return to the football field next season though, as his application for reinstatement to the NFL was approved last month.
The uptick in gambling activities by professional athletes in the wake of the legalization of sports betting raises concerns about the integrity of sporting events. Importantly though, leagues take several measures to ensure that their players are not gambling on their own games, including working with sportsbooks to know if players are registered with the books, where players are placing bets through precise geolocation, and what exactly players are betting on.
These same measures are not in place for many college and universities, whose players are much more susceptible to being influenced by dubious individuals. Currently, the NFL does an annual review of player gambling activities, but given the importance of preserving the integrity of sporting events, the NFL, along with other leagues, will likely need to perform more frequent reviews to reassure fans that games are not fixed and are safe to bet on.