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The NFL has a betting problem

Pro football tries to police player behavior while going big on gambling

A DraftKings kiosk at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa

The NFL has a betting problem
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2023 has been a big year when it comes to gambling violations and suspensions in the National Football League. As it stands, 10 league violations (including the indefinite suspensions of Isaiah Rodgers, Rashod Berry, and Demetrius Taylor) since March 2022 have been directly tied to breaking the NFL’s current gambling policies.

Further, as the reins have been tightened on its gambling policies, the league is most likely causing more confusion than it realizes. Regarding sports betting, it’s clear that the NFL punishes hard but promotes it even harder.

Here’s the rub. The National Football League began an effort in June 2023 to re-emphasize its gambling policy as it pertained to players. The “key rules” the league outlined were:

  1. Don’t bet on the NFL (although players can bet on other sports).
  2. Don’t gamble at your team facility, while traveling for a road game, or staying at a team hotel.
  3. Don’t have someone bet for you.
  4. Don’t share team “inside information.”
  5. Don’t enter a sportsbook during the NFL playing season.
  6. Don’t play daily fantasy football.

At first glance, these rules seem fine, even straightforward. However, with sports betting now allowed in more than 30 states, the NFL has also recently taken steps to welcome gambling by creating partnerships with FanDuel, Caesars, and DraftKings—allowing sportsbooks to operate at league stadiums. Further, once considered off-limits, major television networks airing NFL pregame coverage now include point spreads and odds for the viewing public to consider. DraftKings’ commercials now frequently occur during game breaks, all while Caesars has acquired the naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, La.

Are players are not allowed to gamble while at work in the same buildings where gambling is now allowed and heavily promoted?

Can you say, “mixed signals?”

This is not a column about the ethics of gambling, although the Bible says more than enough to conclude that sports betting has real dangers. I am simply highlighting the problematic precedents that sports like the NFL are now setting. Are players are not allowed to gamble while at work in the same buildings where gambling is now allowed and heavily promoted? This is a problem.

But make no mistake, it’s not the same as a “No Smoking” sign inside a Philip Morris plant, nor is this akin to Coors firing an employee for being inebriated on the job. This is different. The NFL is freely and openly enticing men and women to enjoy sports on another level by risking their finances, even potentially ruining their lives, while expecting the integrity of their own brand to flourish financially and remain clean and moral in the public eye.

Sports gambling is a growing industry with a lot of steam. In 2022, sportsbook revenue in the United States hit $7.5 billion—an all-time high. The NFL knows they must be careful with a gold mine before them. The structural integrity of their brand could come tumbling down with a few reckless players. It makes total sense how competitive NFL players could be confused about why people are getting in so much trouble. The better policy is this: No gambling at all, for spectator or player alike. Once gambling gets tied up, officially, with professional sport (or anything for that matter), the fusion only complicates things.

The NFL is the most successful sports league in the world, wielding a massive influence over fans of all ages. It is not too difficult at any given moment in America to walk into public and see a Las Vegas Raiders jersey or a Kansas City Chiefs ballcap. Many houses during Sunday afternoons in the fall are filled with eager NFL fans anticipating a win for their home team, not to mention the massive turnouts for the annual Super Bowl parties. We all must pay attention to our conduct and how we influence others. The NFL must face the messaging it sends to the next generations. They must see the dangers of setting precedents for “punishing thee while rewarding me.” In time it will be evident that a house divided cannot stand.

In other words, the National Football League is building a house of cards on a slippery slope, expecting to have their cake and eat it too. You cannot be an avid promoter of sports gambling while swiftly and harshly punishing your people for doing the very thing you promote. Further, the NFL uses its top players’ success and influence to continue driving people to the sportsbooks. This is nothing more than hypocrisy, plain and simple. And here’s the kicker: Every time we choose to place even a small bet on the home team to gain a payoff, we are actually choosing to reward the NFL for their hypocritical gambling promotion.

Cheston Pickard

Cheston Pickard serves as discipleship pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

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