A career halted: The NFL bans Calvin Ridley for gambling

Calvin Ridley stepped away from the Falcons in midseason to tend to his mental health. The NFL has suspended him for next season for betting on NFL games in his absence. A once-glittering career is now in question.

Gambling on your sport’s games – even if you’re not playing that sport at that moment – is the third rail of professional leagues. It’s keeping Pete Rose out of Cooperstown. It has now rendered the heir apparent to Julio Jones persona non grata for 2022, and the Falcons need every asset they can find. They can’t play Ridley because he’s banned. They can’t trade him, either.

Wrote Commissioner Roger Goodell: “For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction.”

This wasn’t an exaggeration. We old-timers recall Paul Hornung and Alex Karras – then two of the NFL’s most illustrious players – getting docked for the same season for placing bets. That was in 1963. No NFL player can argue that he doesn’t know the rule. It’s the one rule every player does know.

We can quibble that the NFL, which has a franchise in Las Vegas, is seeking to have it both ways: It’s OK for an average Joe/Jane to bet on our games, but the guys who play it can’t. But if that’s hypocritical, it’s hypocrisy for a reason. The worst thing that can happen to any sport is for the credibility of its results to be called into question.

Goodell banned Tom Brady, maybe the NFL’s greatest player, for four games in the wake of Deflategate. The NFL may do some silly things, but it’s serious about propriety and the appearance thereof.

More Goodell: “This is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official, and anyone else employed in the league. Your (meaning Ridley’s) actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.”

Ridley took to Twitter to defend himself. “I bet $1,500 total. I don’t have a gambling problem.”

Then: “I know I was wrong but I’m getting one year LOL.”

Prospective employers in need of a receiver in 2023 might recall that little LOL.

Michael Garafolo of the NFL Network reports that Ridley bet on Falcons games. The NFL denies that “any inside information was used or any game was compromised in any way.”

Ridley erred egregiously. To his credit, he didn’t deny it. Goodell praised him for his promptness in attending a hearing and his admission he’d bet on the NFL. Didn’t mitigate the sentence, though. He’s gone for a year, though he has the right to appeal.

The Falcons are rebuilding. One way or another, Ridley could have been a key part of that. He could have returned for next season and given Matt Ryan the No. 1 wideout he lacked in 2021. He could have brought some draft picks in a trade. Can’t do either now. ESPN’s Michael Rothstein reports that Ridley’s contract is off the books for 2022, so the team gets $11.1 million off its capped-strapped payroll for next season. That’s something, I guess.

Ridley will turn 28 in December. Receivers don’t age as quickly as running backs, but they do age. (This just in: We all age.) He wrote on Twitter he’ll be in even better shape when he returns. Maybe he will. But he’s about to go 22 months without playing an NFL game in what should have been his NFL prime. There’s nothing to LOL about here.