Do as I say, not as I do.
It should very well be the new mantra of the National Football League.
The NFL has tried its best to defend its brand integrity and uphold its platform as one of the kings of entertainment. In theory, no player is greater than the shield. The well-being of franchises and their fans comes above all else. This means punishing infractions with fines and suspensions based on the severity of the accused actions. Elsewhere, the NFL wants to present itself as a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life. The NFL is supportive and protective of you, the fan.
That’s the lie the NFL keeps telling.
On Friday, the NFL suspended four Detroit Lions players—Jameson Williams, Stanley Berryhill, Quintez Cephus, and C.J. Moore—for gambling-related infractions. Cephus and Moore were suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games, while Williams and Berryhill were suspended six games for betting on non-NFL games from an NFL facility. In the wake of Calvin Ridley's indefinite suspension in March of 2022, the NFL has clamped down on players and sports betting, and the Lions felt the consequences.
For Cephus and Moore, their suspensions—and subsequent releases—are fully justified. No NFL player should bet on NFL games, plain and simple. It damages the integrity of the game, even if both players aren’t involved. It’s a risk that simply cannot exist.
With regards to Williams and Berryhill, however, the hypocrisy of the NFL begins to bleed through.
I’m not here to debate the rule in question, even if it is questionable at best. Williams and Berryhill should have known the rules against gambling on facility grounds, and their suspensions are the result of apathy or ignorance. No excuses. Yet for all the talk the NFL does about upholding the game, how do the actions of Williams and Berryhill actually impact the NFL?
Sports betting can have major consequences, but it’s not the kind of dangerous action that can cause innocent people to lose their lives. Yet, the NFL polices sports betting and things like domestic abuse and drunk driving the same. Nobody is going to die from placing a bet from a mobile phone from an NFL facility. Nobody will suffer irreparable mental trauma from an NFL player placing a non-NFL bet in their team’s clubhouse or locker room.
The NFL wants to place the punishment on the same level as domestic violence and performance-enhancing substances. The former has real-world consequences that matter far more than anything on the field. The latter legitimately affects the integrity of the game, even if the player’s intentions can be debated. For context, Deshaun Watson was originally suspended six games for his sexual misconduct lawsuits, while DeAndre Hopkins was recently suspended six games for a positive PED result. Former linebacker Vontaze Burfict, an infamously dirty player, received a three-game suspension for a vicious hit on Antonio Brown that undoubtedly altered Brown’s NFL career and well-being.
The NFL’s stance on intoxicated driving seems tame in comparison. In 1998, St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Leonard Little killed a woman while driving under the influence of alcohol. He received an eight-game suspension. In 2009, Cleveland Browns receiver Donté Stallworth was suspended an entire 16-game season for DUI manslaughter. Currently, a first-offense DUI carries a minimum three-game suspension, while a second offense jumps up to eight games, though the actual suspension length depends on the severity of the incident. Are Williams and Berryhill’s infractions even remotely comparable to these dangerous and reckless decisions?
The real hypocrisy comes from the tidal wave of sports betting tied to the NFL. The NFL and its teams have lucrative deals with DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars Entertainment, and other sportsbooks. When watching a live game, pre- or post-game talk show, or even during halftime breaks, you cannot escape the omnipresence that is sports betting. Whether mentioned directly by analysts or simply shown on screen as odds, sports betting is a significant part of the NFL experience now. Betting has evolved into its current mainstream form, shoved down your throat at every opportunity, and the NFL relishes it.
Worse yet (and relevant to these suspensions) is the ease of gambling nowadays. Any number of bets can be placed from a mobile phone in an instant. Even players themselves are bombarded with gambling advertisements:
When Lions players run out of their locker room, the first thing they see is a luxury club inside the tunnel with "BetMGM" written in giant letters across the windows https://t.co/xDfnXB6L18— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) April 21, 2023
Gambling addiction is a genuine concern as sports betting grows and grows. For all the hype that surrounds bettors and their significant winnings, it shouldn’t overshadow the lows. Many adults see their lives negatively affected by gambling addictions. Due to the mainstream nature of gambling nowadays, youth are being influenced as well. I can’t say if Williams, Berryhill, Cephus, or Moore have gambling addictions, but it’s hypocritical of the NFL to punish their players so severely for betting while simultaneously encouraging their fanbase to do the same.
The hypocrisy of the NFL doesn’t end there. The NFL has tried to promote and support women in the league and its fanbase, yet they still struggle with properly punishing domestic abusers and other violence. The NFL has tried to promote and support black coaches in the league, yet there are still undertones of racial discrimination amongst some teams. The NFL has tried to promote a family-friendly environment by fining unholy actions like Jamaal Williams doing a hip thrust, yet they still plaster their marketing with alcohol and gambling, both of which can develop into serious life-altering problems.
The NFL will not change its ways. If anything, these suspensions are indicative of a larger crackdown coming. The NFL partnering with these sportsbooks is a key reason why sports betting is so big in North America, but the NFL does not want to deal with the fallout of their actions. The NFL will gladly pocket money related to gambling while punishing their players for partaking in the very same activity. If the NFL wants to take a stance on gambling, that’s fine. They should take a similar stance when it comes to how they earn their paycheck—yet we know they won’t.
There’s no excuse for Jameson Williams or Stanley Berryhill or Quintez Cephus or C.J. Moore. But that doesn’t excuse the NFL either. Time to do as you say.
Editor’s disclosure: DraftKings Sportsbook is a sponsor of SB Nation’s coverage.