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Josh Shaw is now on one of the shortest lists in NFL history.
There are only four players who have been suspended for betting on NFL games in the league’s 100 years: Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras, Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung, Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts quarterback Art Schlichter and now Shaw. Shaw, a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, was given a suspension that will run through at least next season after he bet on NFL games.
If you believe that only four of the tens of thousands of men who have played in the NFL have ever gambled on games, you’re in denial. Shaw was just reckless enough to get caught, or he misinterpreted a Supreme Court ruling on sports gambling if you want to buy that wild excuse.
The NFL, which tried to bury this news on a Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving, can pass this off as one isolated incident that didn’t compromise any games. But it’s a glimpse into one of the league’s biggest fears.
NFL wants to protect the integrity of games
Soon, most people in the United States will be able to bet on sports. In November, Colorado became the 19th state to legalize sports gambling. Others will follow. The landmark 2018 decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn a federal ban on sports gambling, which allowed states to decide whether to make sports betting legal, made sports gambling more mainstream than ever.
As sports gambling spreads, it puts the NFL in an awkward spot. The league’s stance against gambling has always been laughably behind the times. Many NFL fans like gambling on games. The NFL resisted it forever, though the league floated some trial balloons with gambling-style contests through team sites earlier this season. In January, the NFL announced a partnership with Caesars Entertainment, something that was impossible to imagine even a few years ago. The landscape is changing and the NFL had to adjust.
And in every comment regarding gambling, the NFL mentions protecting the integrity of the game. The league did so again in announcing Shaw’s suspension.
“The continued success of the NFL depends directly on each of us doing everything necessary to safeguard the integrity of the game and the reputations of all who participate in the league,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “At the core of this responsibility is the longstanding principle that betting on NFL games, or on any element of a game, puts at risk the integrity of the game, damages public confidence in the NFL, and is forbidden under all circumstances. If you work in the NFL in any capacity, you may not bet on NFL football.”
Until now, there was no specific case for conspiracy theorists to cite. The NFL hadn’t had a gambling-related suspension since Schlichter in 1983. Until Shaw, that is.
Sports gambling is easier than ever
Every time officials miss a call, some fans will scream that NFL games are rigged. There’s no evidence of that and it doesn’t make any logical sense, but people believe it anyway. And with the lines being blurred on sports gambling, it will get worse.
Anyone concerned that Shaw’s punishment of a year-long suspension was too harsh isn’t paying enough attention. The NFL opened itself up to skepticism when it allowed the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas, and then with the Caesars partnership. All of a sudden the NFL is engaged in the gambling business, and one of its 32 teams is moving to the gambling capital of the United States.
Nearly all players are not going to risk a lucrative career to bet on NFL games when they are clearly told of the rule and the consequences. Shaw, being on injured reserve and reportedly not around the Cardinals since preseason, is about the best possible case for the NFL as these things go. It’s dubious when the NFL says there was “no evidence indicating any inside information was used,” but at least he wasn’t playing in games he bet on. That way the NFL is believable when it says no games were compromised.
But it’s a warning shot. The NFL has unprecedented popularity, but a gambling scandal could chip away at that. Shaw is mostly an unknown who isn’t even playing this season because he’s injured. Imagine if this happened with an active quarterback or other star. The NFL can educate and threaten and even cultivate relationships with sportsbooks to keep a close eye on any questionable activity, but they can’t keep every single player from going on his phone and placing a bet on an app, or finding ways to gamble on games in other ways. It’s easier than ever now.
Friday’s news surely wasn’t good for the NFL, but it could have been worse. And that’s the concern as they head into a new era that has made sports gambling and the NFL almost inseparable.
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