Updated: Jun 2
In April 2023, the NFL announced the suspension of five players for violating the league's strict gambling policy. The suspensions have left fans and analysts wondering how they will impact their respective teams, and how the league will continue to enforce its policy going forward.
The league suspended four Lions players including wide receivers Jameson Williams, Quintez Cephus, Stanley Berryhill, and safety C.J. Moore. The fifth player suspended was the Washington Commanders' defensive end, Shaka Toney. Berryhill and Williams were handed a 6-game suspension while Cephus, Moore, and Toney are suspended indefinitely with the ability to revisit the suspension after one year.
The league released in a statement, “The gambling policy, which is annually reviewed with all NFL personnel, including players, prohibits anyone in the NFL from engaging in any form of gambling in any club or league facility or venue, including the practice facility.”
Additionally, the league felt it was necessary to defend the integrity of the games that were bet on by stating, “A league review uncovered no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way.”
These suspensions had an immediate effect on Detroit. Following the NFL’s statement, the Lions released their own regarding the organization's own players.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes said in a statement “As a result of an NFL investigation, it came to our attention that a few of our players had violated the league's gambling policy.” He continued, "These players exhibited decision-making that is not consistent with our organizational values and violates league rules. We have made the decision to part ways with Quintez and C.J. immediately. We are disappointed by the decision-making demonstrated by Stanley and Jameson and will work with both players to ensure they understand the severity of these violations and have clarity on the league rules moving forward."
To fully understand my critique of these suspensions it is important to note the differences in the actions of the players that led to some receiving shorter suspensions than the others. The three players that received the indefinite suspension were caught betting on NFL games while Berryhill and Williams placed bets on college games while at the team facilities.
Even as a staunch supporter of sports betting, prohibiting the placing of wagers on a league you participate in is one line that I believe should be staunchly enforced. The integrity of sports betting flies out the window when those who are actively participating in the game and/or have knowledge that would put that person at an extreme advantage.
However, my opinion changes when we look at the suspension of Berryhill and Williams. Do I think they should’ve been suspended? Yes, they broke a rule that is clearly outlined in the NFL’s Gambling Policy for NFL Personnel. Do I believe that this rule is dumb and should not be applied to players who are placing bets on leagues not affiliated with their employment? A resounding YES.
The NFL and its affiliated teams enjoy profit from their partnerships with sports betting companies such as FanDuel, DraftKings, and many others. According to SponsorUnited’s 2022 NFL Report, more than 25 NFL teams have a sports betting or daily fantasy sports sponsorship deal. Just this past year, the Buffalo Bills inked a multi-year deal with FanDuel to become the team’s official mobile sports betting partner. This runs in conjunction with New York’s record-setting mobile sports betting revenue numbers hitting around $1.754 billion.
The 2022 report also states that sports betting deals have quadrupled over the past 3 NFL seasons. This growth in sponsorship deals led to a 40% increase in revenue for the teams just this past year alone.
Given that the league takes full advantage of legalized gambling why should players not be able to bet on other leagues? They do not have inside knowledge that would allow them to beat the system and they certainly would not hold the power to influence the outcome of games in these other leagues.
I believe that the rules should be amended to allow players and other personnel to enjoy legalized sports betting as long as those bets are not placed on NFL games. Having restrictions on the time and place in which personnel can place legal sports wagers on unaffiliated leagues seems like an overstep. The league is sending a message that they can enjoy the full benefits of legalized gambling while hampering their personnel and players from enjoying the same freedom. Yes, NFL players should not be allied to bet on NFL games. But punishing players for placing otherwise permissible wagers because they happened to be sitting in an NFL facility is ludicrous.
Justin Mader is a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law where he earned a J.D. and a Sports and Entertainment Law Certificate. He serves as one of Conduct Detrimental’s Producers and Editors. He can be reached via Twitter: @maderlaw.