The National Football League (NFL) recently banned five players for betting on sporting events.
Receiver Quintez Cephus and safety C.J. Moore of the Detroit Lions and defensive-end Shaka Toney of the Washington Commanders were suspended for the 2023 season for betting on NFL games, while Lions receivers Stanley Berryhill and Jameson Williams were suspended for six games each.
Despite the NFL bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from partnerships with gambling entities, it is still against the rules for player to bet on football games.
Merriam Webster defines hypocrisy as a, “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.”
Using that definition, one could make a strong case that the NFL punishing players for conduct that they encourage their fans to engage in is the epitome of hypocrisy.
However, a closer look reveals that the players were suspended for breaking a rule under the collective bargaining agreement between players, teams and league.
Despite all NFL employees being prohibited from entering or using any sportsbook during the season, the Washington Commanders opened the first in-stadium sportsbook in January, the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants and Jets have sportsbooks outside their venues.
That is a nice way to say that the NFL can have their cake and parlay, too, by saying that the players knew the rules and fans are not under the same restrictions.
Sports betting has always been a part of the game.
Some of my earliest memories of watching football involve Brent Musburger and Jimmy “the Greek” Synder talking about point spreads and predicting winners of games using coded language on the NFL Today pregame show on CBS.
While sports and gambling always had a connection of some sort, the floodgates of the rise in sports betting opened wide in 2018 when the United States Supreme Court voted 6-3 in the case Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that forbade state-authorized sports gambling everywhere other than Nevada.
At the time of the ruling, all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law and rule against New Jersey governor Phillip D. Murphy.
In the years that followed the Supreme Court decision, those same leagues went from opposing sports betting to embracing it. In fact, sports betting became mainstream to the point that now there are professional sports teams in Las Vegas, and official Sports Book sponsors in multiple leagues.
What was once only whispered in the shadows came out into the sunshine and spread like a kudzu vine choking out everything in its path.
Personally, betting on sports has never appealed to me. Throughout my career as a collegiate Sports Information Director, sports reporter and editor, I avoided any actions that could seem to be ethically questionable. That included betting on teams I covered, or really any sports for that matter.
That is the stand that worked for me. It is similar to the stand that the NFL and other leagues have for their employees.
I know some people who held similar positions to me take a more relaxed view of the issue of sports betting.
One of the first newspaper groups I worked for in Houston had an annual Christmas party at a local Greyhound racing track. I thought that it was an interesting choice of venue for a newspaper group.
A few years later, while working for a different newspaper, I was sent to do a feature on that same greyhound track because as my editor said, “they are a big advertiser and we like to keep them happy.” In fact, every night I had to dedicated a large about of space in the sports section for the results from the track.
I mention all of this to say that media groups and sports leagues have long been embedded with various forms of sports wagering. As more and more sports betting became legal, more and more embraces between leagues and sports books were made.
There is a huge difference between greyhound racing and the NFL when it comes to participants and betting.
The greyhounds did not know that people were making and losing money based on their performance. In many cases, the greyhounds were just doing what they were trained to do by going around in circles chasing the mechanical rabbit around the track in a counter clockwise motion.
On the other hand, NFL players, and other professional and collegiate athletes know about the millions, if not billions, of dollars that are being wagered on the fruits of their labors.
To be fair, I do not think that athletes should be betting on games that they are playing in. The Black Sox Scandal and the Pete Rose suspension were justified to prevent players and managers from throwing games for financial benefit.
Teams throwing games for better draft picks is an entirely different issue and a column for another day.
There is no easy answer for what to do with sports betting and athletes.
The future of sports betting, as well as player compensation, were topics that came up quite often while I was working on my Masters in Sport Management. In fact, I studied the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in both my academic and professional career.
Leagues are going to continue to gladly accept the revenue that comes from sports betting advertisements with the really small print about how gambling is addictive, etc.
At the same time, athletes are going to continue to test the limits of how much betting they can do on the sports they play in to get a share of the millions, if not billions, of dollars changing hands every sports weekend.
Speaking of million-dollar bets, there is a Houston area business man who is famous for bankrolling promotions at his store with large bets that he makes in Louisiana.
This individual was asked what he thought about the growing movements to legalize sports betting in Texas.
His response was that legalizing betting by phone would bolster gambling addiction, and that his two-hour drives to Louisiana to place bets “limits impulses by a factor of 1,000.”
When those comments first came out, many people called the aforementioned businessman a hypocrite based on the appearance that he saw nothing wrong with him traveling to place bets, but felt that the people of Texas would not have the same control if betting become legal in the Lone Star State.
Online sports betting is now legal and active in 36 states across the country. Massachusetts, Maine and Nebraska are all expected to join the legalized sports betting states in the coming months.
California, and Florida are amongst the states where it’s not yet legal to place an online bet. Texas is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina, with bills or ballot initiatives to legalize sports betting.
With so much momentum moving towards legalized sports betting from sea to shining sea, it is likely that soon the professional sports leagues will be even more in bed with online gaming sites.
Municipalities will claim that they will earn money from taxing gambling operations, and sports leagues will continue to say that embedding their content with online gambling gives a more well-rounded experience to fans.
Time will tell if their actions remain such that they can be called hypocrites, or if they will make it easier for players to get a slice of the pie.
Meanwhile, five football players may never take another snap in a league that makes billions of dollars for their fans and themselves off of the efforts of their players.
Suddenly, it sounds a little better to just be a greyhound focusing on the rabbit unaware of everything that is going on around them
Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about sports betting has given me a bit of a headache.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson