Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for at least the entire 2022 season for gambling on N.F.L. games last year, one of the harshest penalties a major American sports league has doled out since the N.F.L. rushed to embrace an expansion of legalized wagering on games.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement on Monday that Ridley, 27, placed bets on N.F.L. games during a five-day period in late November 2021 when he was away from the club to focus on his mental health.
After an investigation, the league “uncovered no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way,” Goodell said in the statement. “Nor was there evidence suggesting any awareness by coaches, staff, teammates, or other players of his betting activity.”
Still, Goodell said the “integrity of the game” is fundamental to the league’s success, and Ridley put that integrity at risk.
Ridley placed three parlay bets between Nov. 23 and Nov. 28 on the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app while he was in Florida, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. Genius Sports, which monitors sports betting data for the league, alerted the N.F.L. that a player might be behind those bets. The N.F.L.’s investigation found that Ridley’s bets included a wager on the Falcons to win.
Soon after the N.F.L. announced the suspension, Ridley wrote on Twitter: “I bet 1500 total I don’t have a gambling problem,” later adding that he couldn’t watch football at that point.
He then posted: “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol.”
Ridley’s agent, Ben Setas, did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday.
Ridley announced on Oct. 31, 2021, that he would step away from the team because of a mental health issue.
“These past few weeks have been very challenging and as much as I’d like to be on the field competing with my teammates, I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental well-being,” Ridley said in a statement posted to his social media accounts. “This will help me be the best version of myself now and in the future.
A four-year N.F.L. veteran, Ridley had his best season in 2020 when he caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards. Last season, he played in just five games. The team exercised his fifth-year option for the 2022 season last spring.
The Falcons said in a statement that they first learned on the league’s investigation on Feb. 9, and that they “support the league’s findings and actions.”
Ridley can appeal his suspension within three days and ask to be reinstated on or after Feb. 15, 2023.
Ridley’s suspension is the first sports gambling-related penalty the N.F.L. has imposed on a player since 2019, when it suspended Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw for the remainder of that season. Shaw, who was on the injured reserved list at the time, was suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season as well as the 2020 season. He has not played in the N.F.L. since.
Before Shaw’s suspension, the N.F.L. had not penalized a player for gambling on games in more than two decades.
The most well-known punishments for sports gambling-related infractions in the N.F.L. occurred in 1963 when Pete Rozelle, who was then the commissioner, suspended Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive end Alex Karras for the entire season for betting on football games.
In 1946, the day before the N.F.L.’s championship game between the Chicago Bears and the Giants, the league’s commissioner, Bert Bell, was told by the assistant district attorney in Manhattan that Giants quarterback Frank Filchock and running back Merle Hapes had been offered $2,500 to throw the game.
Bell said that the police found that the players had not taken any bribes, and so allowed Filchock — who had denied being approached by gamblers — to play. Bell suspended Hapes, who admitted having been asked to throw the game but did not report it to the league. Filchock later admitted to lying to Bell, and he was suspended indefinitely. After Filchock played several seasons in Canada, Bell reinstated him in 1950, and he played in one game that year with the Baltimore Colts.
Since 2018, when the Supreme Court cut down a 1992 federal law that had limited sports betting primarily to Nevada, the thick walls that have long separated the N.F.L. from the gambling industry have crumbled. After decades of opposing sports wagering, the league has now signed major sponsorship deals with casinos, the Raiders play their home games in Las Vegas, and the draft will be held there in April — and the Super Bowl in 2024.
Television broadcasts of N.F.L. games last season were blanketed by advertisements from sports books trying to attract new customers.
In April 2021, the N.F.L. hired Genius Sports to provide “comprehensive integrity services to monitor betting” on all N.F.L. games, and to provide “education programs to ensure the continuation of the N.F.L.’s high standard for integrity.”
The league provides training to more than 17,000 N.F.L. personnel, including workers on game days and stadium employees. The basic message is not to bet on N.F.L. games or pass along inside information about the games. Players are, however, allowed to bet on other sports.