By selling its soul, the NFL has enabled its own gambling problem

Here’s to another NFL teaching moment, with the news this week that Indianapolis Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers is seemingly destined to be added to the pile of violators of the league’s gambling policy.

Nearly seven weeks since four Detroit Lions players and a Washington Commanders player were suspended for varying lengths, Rodgers is under investigation, reportedly accused of “pervasive” betting. This can’t be good. He’s already issued a statement of apology, too, which is like begging for mercy from the court.

What in the name of Caesar’s Palace is going on?

Add the cases from recent years – former Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley (now a Jacksonville Jaguar) was suspended in 2022 for an entire year, former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw was banned indefinitely in 2019 – and it is rather apparent: The NFL has a gambling problem.

A person gambles as betting odds for NFL football’s Super Bowl are displayed on monitors at the Circa resort and casino sports book Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Sure, with a half-dozen cases (which might grow) arising from a pool of 2,000 players, this is hardly an epidemic. But it’s trending in the wrong direction, despite the efforts by the league and teams to educate players about the consequences.

Q: Don’t they see the traditional anti-gambling messaging posted in every NFL locker room?

A: Maybe it just blends with messages about staying hydrated and keeping their heads out of tackling.

Q: Don’t they know the history, like the time in the early 1960s when two NFL stars – Alex Karras and Paul Hornung – were suspended for a year for betting and, as Commissioner Pete Rozelle put it, associating with “known hoodlums?”

A: The 1960s? Hoodlums or not, too ancient to resonate. Besides, when it comes to history, how many current NFL players can tell you why George Preston Marshall was such a loser.

Q: Don’t they know the rules, which prohibit betting on any NFL game or event … and from betting at all while at NFL facilities?

A: Apparently, with thick playbooks and myriad NFL policies to grasp, there are some who apparently don’t have a clue about what’s allowable.

Although two former first-round picks have drawn suspensions – Ridley and Detroit receiver Jameson Williams, banned this year for six games – the NFL must be keeping its fingers crossed (or holding its breath) that these gambling mishaps don’t involve marquee players, including quarterbacks. Or game officials.

Those worst-case scenarios would add layers to the integrity-of-the-game concerns that, before the money flowed, used to dictate the NFL’s overall philosophy about gambling.

It’s striking that the players drawing suspensions to this point are on the younger end of the spectrum, with less than five years of experience. Maybe that’s reflective of the normalization of gambling in our society, with this being the first generation of players to emerge from a wave where there’s some form of legal gambling in many states.

With new players cycling through the NFL and continually turning over the bottom half of rosters as an extension of salary cap management, there is apparently the need to continually educate for the waves of fresh talent.

This week, Commanders coach Ron Rivera talked about the PowerPoint presentation to players that emphasized the consequences of gambling. Rivera maintained that coaches and others in leadership positions must remain “diligent,” which is one of the words that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell used in addressing the issue as the NFL meetings concluded last month in Minnesota.

“You educate, you try to make sure that people understand our policies,” Goodell said. “We know that education is not fool-proof. We’re dealing with a lot of personnel. It’s not just players. It’s coaches, league office, everybody in the NFL. We all have to be diligent about it, so we’ll continue to do that.”

Then again, with the consequences as they are – and the support that players could or should have outside of the teams from agents and family members – it’s fair to wonder how the violators can be so naïve. Maybe pre-combine interviews need to include a few gambling questions. In perhaps the most egregious case, Shaw bet on a game that involved his own team as part of a three-team parlay.

Of course, this “gambling problem” is not all on the players. Hardly.

The other lesson attached to the teaching moment for players is for the NFL Shield. Goodell and others in the NFL universe will tell you they are “concerned” about the real or potential fallout linked to gambling, but not enough to refuse the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow from gambling entities into the pockets of NFL owners.

So, the NFL is effectively enabling the very behavior that has led to discipline for violations.

No, players can’t place bets at team headquarters, but they can play in stadiums where a team’s sponsorship from a casino or sportsbook is on full display. What a mixed message.

According to SponsorUnited, a marketing research platform, the NFL last year set a record with more than $2 billion in revenue from sponsorships – with a huge chuck coming from “official betting partners” and other gambling-industry entities. On top of that, at least 25 of the 32 teams reportedly have individual sponsorships with gambling entities. That pattern will undoubtedly expand after NFL owners voted in March to allow fans to bet on NFL games while inside the stadiums, adding more normalcy to gambling in society. But, again, players (and other NFL personnel) can’t use devices to bet while at team headquarters. Yet the league can partner with an industry wrapped in the warnings of gambling addiction, having officially sold its soul on the matter for another fluid revenue stream.

There’s one NFL stadium, FedEx Field, with a physical sportsbook inside the stadium, while two others (MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and State Farm Stadium in Arizona) have sportsbooks just outside the stadiums. And, given the money, we know where this is headed. There will be more.

“The stigma is gone, no question about it,” Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s the future and all that. But the league being tied to gambling, advertising, and things of that nature, it’s interesting to me.”

Davis added that he’s “concerned about the ties between the league and gambling,” although hardly enough to keep him from cashing in with a taxpayer-supported stadium upon moving his franchise from Oakland in 2020.

“Everybody thought we moved to Las Vegas because of the gambling,” Davis maintained. “That wasn’t my goal at all.”

Nonetheless, the NFL placing a franchise in Las Vegas – where Super Bowl 58 will be staged in February 2024 – is a large symbol of the league’s philosophical shift. Remember, it was only eight years ago when Tony Romo and other NFL players were prohibited from participating in a planned fantasy football convention in Las Vegas, deemed too close to the gambling industry. Now the NFL has no qualms about bringing its signature event and other marquee events (the NFL draft, the Pro Bowl Games) to Las Vegas. Times have changed.

Of course, the other markers come with bottom line of revenues. When the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal ban on sports betting in most states, it changed the game enough that the league that once saw any association with gambling as taboo flipped to embrace the industry.

And to reap the benefits.

In other words, the NFL will certainly drop the hammer on violators of its gambling policy … but all while looking for an increasing cut from the industry built on the odds of winning and losing.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL’s gambling problem is a mess of league’s own making

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The NFL’s Gambling Issue Has Been Fueled by Its Compromised Ethics

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers is being investigated for allegedly betting on football. This follows recent suspensions of four Detroit Lions players and a Washington Commanders player. Despite several cases arising, with a relatively small number of players being affected in a pool of 2,000, this is said to be trending in the wrong direction. Efforts have been made to educate players about the consequences of gambling, but there is concern that the number of violations could grow. The NFL reportedly made more than $2bn in revenue from sponsorships last year, with a significant chunk coming from “official betting partners” and other gambling-industry entities.

#NFLGamblingPolicy #IsaiahRodgers #GamblingSuspension #IntegrityOfTheGame #GamblingEducation #GamblingAddiction #NFLRevenue #SportsBetting #GamblingInTheNFL #NFLGamblingPartners #NFLStadiums #LasVegasNFL #NFLShift #FantasyFootballGambling #NFLGamblingPolicyEnforcement #JarrettBell #USATODAYSports

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