'Shame on us': Broncos coach Sean Payton rips NFL for gambling policy after latest ban

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Sean Payton insists that blame doesn’t stop with the rash of players banned in recent weeks for violating the NFL’s gambling policy.

The new Denver Broncos coach, with second-year defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike suspended indefinitely on Monday for betting on NFL games last season, has a sharp rebuke of the league office for administering a policy that continues to trend toward a black eye for the NFL.

“When you have a bunch of players getting D’s, you have to start looking at the message,” Payton told USA TODAY Sports during an exclusive interview on Tuesday as Broncos veterans reported to training camp. “And we’ve had a lot of D’s in our league this year with this policy.”

Reminded that Uwazurike, 25, is the 10th NFL player since April to be suspended for gambling activity, Payton replied, “Shame on us."

“And we’re going to send them home for a year, where they can’t be around. The idea that you just go away, shame on us.”

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton takes part in drills during a mandatory NFL football minicamp at the Broncos' headquarters Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Centennial, Colo.
Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton takes part in drills during a mandatory NFL football minicamp at the Broncos' headquarters Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Centennial, Colo.

Uwazurike won’t be eligible to return for at least a year, his 2023 season wiped out. While Payton hardly excuses the player for violating the policy, he is critical of the manner in which the league has tried to explain the policy to the teams and player population.

Payton, who joined the Broncos this year after a one-year hiatus from coaching, was a vocal critic long before having one of his players suspended. He said that he essentially tore up material about the policy that the league sent to the team during the spring, deeming it as too convoluted.

“It was awful,” Payton said.

He instructed Mark Thewes, the team’s vice president of football operations and compliance, to provide a streamlined version of the policy that he presented to the players and the team’s staff.

And Payton told the players?

“You can’t bet on NFL football, ever, ever, ever,” he said. “I don’t give a (expletive) what it is. The other thing is, it's the same as the gun policy. You can’t bet on nothing if you’re at your facility, your hotel, your airplane. So, wherever you can’t carry a gun, you can’t place a bet.”

It is striking, if not absurd, that Payton would feel the need to draw a parallel to the NFL’s gun policy.

“You can’t bring a gun to the parking lot…the team hotel…to training camp…to the stadium,” he added.

Then again, for NFL players to not realize that betting on league games is off-limits – even if they are injured or inactive – apparently underscores the education that is needed.

“If you want to know why everybody is getting busted? They are using this at the facility,” Payton said, grabbing his phone. “And this traces where you were at.

“It’s real simple for the players: You can’t bet on football. Period,” he repeated. “You can bet on the other sports, dogs, ponies, craps. You can do all that, but you can’t do it while you’re at the facility.”

No, it doesn’t help that the league’s environment has evolved to the point that most NFL teams have a sponsorship agreements with a casino or other gambling entity, and that the league has embraced the industry that it once considered taboo. Payton doesn’t shy away from suggesting that the NFL’s gambling policy reeks of hypocrisy.

“I know this: There’s a handful of owners that are owning these ‘problems,’ “ Payton said. “A player can’t have a share of DraftKings or FanDuel. It’s shameful. Embarrassing.”

As of Tuesday morning, Payton said he hadn’t contacted Uwazurike since the suspension was announced but hoped to speak to him by the end of the day. Payton seemed discouraged by what he understood about the policy, as it prevented contact and support from the team.

“Part of that (support) is finding out, ‘Hey, what is the protocol? What is allowed?’ “ Payton said. “Do we want to see these guys return?"

Payton recalled the conditions of the one-year suspension he received from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the 2012 season, stemming from the Bountygate scandal with the New Orleans Saints. Payton was prevented from having any contact with coaches, staff, players or league office personnel during his ban. If he inadvertently encountered someone (as was the case with a Dallas Cowboys linebacker while he lived in the Dallas area during the suspension), he had to report it to then-NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson.

“When they want to kill somebody…when I got suspended, it was, ‘You can’t have no contact with anybody in the NFL,’ “ Payton said. “The idea that I’m going to call somebody and say, ‘You need to be running these plays’ is foolish.

“The question is, ‘What’s the intent of the punishment?’ I know what Roger’s intent was (for me). Do we want these young men to still have a chance to learn from their mistakes?”

Surely, that would be the most desirable fix for the NFL.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Broncos coach Sean Payton rips NFL for gambling policy: 'Shame on us'