Players credit the NFL and union with doing a better job of teaching when sports betting isn’t OK
Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams watches from the bench area against the Jacksonville Jaguars during an preseason NFL football game in Detroit, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Detroit wide receiver Jameson Williams and Tennessee right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere started their six-game suspensions for betting at work at the NFL’s final roster cutdown deadline. At least they’ll be able to rejoin their teams this season. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
Published: September 11, 2023
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Detroit wide receiver Jameson Williams and Tennessee right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere began six-game suspensions recently for betting at work. At least they’ll be able to rejoin their teams this season.
Other players caught up in a wave of gambling-related suspensions will be gone much longer, if they’re allowed to return at all.
Detroit cut three of Williams’ teammates in April. Indianapolis also released three players within hours of the NFL announcing their indefinite suspensions. Just before training camp, Denver defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike became the 10th player punished this year for either gambling on the NFL or other sports.
The punishments have led to an ongoing conversation about betting and the integrity of the game, attracted attention in Congress and even prompted the NFL to get Tom Brady for a video on its gambling policy that rookies must watch as the league tries to clarify its rules. Players have noticed, and they say the NFL has done a much better job of educating them on exactly where and what they can bet on, especially helpful with smart phones and tablets making wagering so easy.
“They made what has been broken very clear — after the fact,” Detroit linebacker Alex Anzalone said.
The NFL’s mandated training this year included both league and NFL Players Association officials and emphasized six key rules:
— Don’t even think of betting on NFL games.
— Forget wagering on the draft, combine, Pro Bowl or the league’s annual awards.
— Someone else can’t place a bet for you.
— Don’t play fantasy football. Just ignore the NFL website that features a link for everyone else.
— No gambling while on team or league property with that always present phone. That includes the team facility, the team hotel, the team airplane or even while making endorsement or promotional appearances.
“Last year, they didn’t give it to us like that,” Detroit cornerback Jerry Jacobs said of all those details. “They just told us we can’t gamble, but they didn’t tell us where.”
Yet even with more education, challenges will remain in a league with 18 teams in states where online sports betting is legal.
The Chiefs’ territory straddles two states, with sports betting legal in Kansas yet illegal in Missouri. Team President Mark Donovan said every employee goes through training each year, including seasonal workers.
“Eventually, someone’s going to get it …,” Donovan said. “You can have a seasonal (worker) that’s in Kansas on FanDuel. If he’s an employee of ours, that’s an issue, right?”
Arizona right tackle Kelvin Beachum pointed out there’s a BetMGM facility within walking distance of State Farm Stadium, where the Cardinals play, adding to the temptations NFL players face. He credits the NFL and NFLPA with making very clear they can’t bet on league games.
“Where there is a lot of gray area is you’ve got BetMGM that is a sponsor for one of the teams,” Beachum said. “You’ve got DraftKings, who is paying players to do commercial spots, whether it be for hospitality or fighting, but those brands are still working with the NFL in many respects.”
Contradictions are everywhere for a league now inextricably entwined with sports betting while preaching caution for players. Everybody else working in the NFL can’t bet on any sport.
Archie Manning and his sons — Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton and his brother, Eli — are featured in commercials for Caesars Sportsbook. The Super Bowl will be played in Las Vegas — a city the league conspicuously avoided for decades but is now home to the Raiders, who play within sight of the world-famous Vegas Strip.
Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., co-alternate NFLPA team rep for the New England Patriots, said it’s impossible to escape legalized sports betting.
“You have a team in Vegas that’s pretty much right beside the biggest gambling spot in the world,” Wise said. “If I cut on the TV and radio, I’m hearing about FanDuel, I’m hearing about whatever bets are being made or whatever fantasy league or whatever the case. So gambling is around us more and more.”
The NFL has relationships with companies that capitalize on players’ likeness and brands yet players cannot buy stock in those same businesses.
Beachum said he’s never been tempted to download a betting app. “But I’ve been very interested in the investment aspect of being able to invest in some of those franchises,” he said.
Despite all the possible temptations, the suspensions have gotten players’ attention.
“Nobody wants to be suspended without pay for a year,” said Pittsburgh center Mason Cole, who was among those who believes the league’s gambling policy always has been pretty clear. “Nobody is trying to do that, so I think it’s a pretty good deterrent.”
Calvin Ridley was the first big name suspended and forced to miss the entire 2022 season. The 26th overall pick of the 2018 draft at least is back in the league. Atlanta traded him to Jacksonville, and Ridley was reinstated the first day he was allowed to ask the NFL to let him play again.
Williams will miss the NFL’s opening game Sept. 7 when the Lions visit the defending champion Chiefs. His starting job will be waiting when he’s eligible to return for Detroit’s visit to Baltimore on Oct. 22.
The starting job Petit-Frere won as a rookie and third-round pick last year out of Ohio State may not be his when he’s eligible to return Oct. 29 against Atlanta. The Titans signed veteran Chris Hubbard to ensure they had a replacement.
Every NFL player contract includes a clause on upholding the integrity of a game. So what did Petit-Frere bet on? He wouldn’t say.
“I could just tell you that it was not on NFL for sure because I understand that is a detriment to the league and to the integrity of the (NFL) shield,” Petit-Frere said.