Why did NFL suspend 5 players for gambling? Breaking down questions and answers about latest policy violations

As news broke Friday morning that five NFL players were suspended for violating the league’s gambling policy, details prompted questions in addition to answers.

Why were five players suspended and why were the lengths of their suspensions inconsistent? Did players bet on NFL games, and if not, should they be punished? What even is the NFL policy on gambling and sports betting?

An NFL release answered some of these questions. Conversations with league sources and a copy of the NFL gambling policy obtained by Yahoo Sports shed more light. Here’s what we know about the NFL’s gambling policy and why five players are now suspended.

Who’s suspended and why?

Detroit Lions wide receiver Quintez Cephus, Lions defensive back C.J. Moore and Washington Commanders defensive end Shaka Toney are suspended indefinitely, with a chance to apply for reinstatement after the 2023 NFL season. Lions receivers Jameson Williams and Stanley Berryhill are suspended for the first six regular-season games of the 2023 season. The duo can participate in offseason and preseason activities before serving their suspension.

Cephus, Moore and Toney violated league policy when they bet on NFL games in the 2022 season, the NFL said. That release did not specify what triggered Berryhill and Williams’ consequences. The Lions, however, said in a statement that Berryhill and Williams’ policy violations included “betting from an NFL facility on non-NFL games.” The Lions also announced Friday that they were dismissing Cephus and Moore.

What does the NFL policy on gambling even say?

NFL policy prohibits any form of gambling while at a league facility or venue including practice facilities, stadiums and team hotels. Personnel may not gamble while at draft, league, or club events; while traveling on club or league business; while using club or league transportation including charter planes; and while making endorsements or promotional appearances.

Though player suspensions unsurprisingly generate the most interest (ESPN reported that Lions staffers were also dismissed recently for violating the policy), players — thanks at least in part to union representation — actually have more leeway than any other NFL personnel in the policy, a Yahoo Sports policy review found.

Defensive back C.J. Moore was one of two players released by the Detroit Lions after Friday's indefinite NFL suspension for gambling. (Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Defensive back C.J. Moore was one of two players released by the Detroit Lions after Friday's indefinite NFL suspension for gambling. (Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Players cannot bet on matters related to NFL games. And yet, they’re the only group of league or team employees permitted to bet on other sports. Non-player league and team employees are prohibited from placing, soliciting or facilitating any bet on any professional, college, international or amateur sports competition, tournament or event, per the policy.

NFL personnel have strict requirements regarding promotional appearances with gambling entities, unable to make appearances at game watch parties (even, say, during their respective bye week) or at places whose primary purpose is to offer sports betting. All NFL personnel may not accept gifts or services from gambling entities exceeding $250 in value. They may not accept prizes worth more than $250 for any season-long fantasy football game, nor participate in daily fantasy contests.

How likely is it that the players knew they were violating league policy?

Each year during training camp, the league trains 17,000 people on its gambling policy, a league spokesman said. Not only coaches and team employees but also game-day assistants and staff, such as those who hold the down markers, undergo this training.

One club source speaking to Yahoo Sports described three different ways that players receive notice of this policy: They must acknowledge and agree to the policy in a written document; team personnel address it, often during meetings on the first day of training camp; and NFL security visit teams to discuss this.

Even team employees who aren’t in football operations — think: marketing executives, sales representatives — are subject to these restrictions, which further prohibit gambling while traveling on club or league business, while making an endorsement or promotional appearance, or while at a league facility or venue.

Still, there are some tricky details, such as the restriction of players betting on other sports while on team transportation or in a team hotel even if the same behavior would be permitted in their own homes and vehicles.

Were NFL games rigged?

The NFL says its review “uncovered no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way.”

Then why is the league doling out consequences?

Commanders defensive end Shaka Toney was the only non-Detroit Lion suspended in Friday's NFL gambling punishments. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
Commanders defensive end Shaka Toney was the only non-Detroit Lion suspended in Friday's NFL gambling punishments. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)

The NFL, in its introduction to the 2022 policy, details guidelines with the stated purpose of “maintaining the integrity of its brand, games, clubs, players, coaches and other League and club personnel.”

“Gambling, particularly betting on NFL games or other sports, presents risks to the integrity of our competition and team cohesion,” the introduction states, per a copy obtained by Yahoo Sports. “(It) can undermine the confidence and trust of our fans and colleagues in America’s greatest game.”

How likely is it that the players get reinstated?

The most recent player to receive an indefinite suspension was wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who bet on NFL games in Nov. 2021 and was suspended in March 2022. Ridley missed the entire 2022 season but has since been granted reinstatement. Now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ridley spoke publicly for the first time this week.

“Wow,” he told reporters of his emotions returning to the locker room, “I’m really back here.”

Have any players responded?

As of Friday afternoon, no player had spoken directly. The Commanders said in a statement that they “have been made aware of” and “have cooperated fully” with the NFL investigation. Williams’ representation, Alliance Sports, said in a statement that he “takes fully responsibility for his actions and is very apologetic.”

They clarified the nature of his violation.

“It is important to note that Jameson’s violation was not for betting on football but rather due to a technical rule regarding the actual location in which the online bet was placed - and which would otherwise be allowed by the NFL outside of the club’s facility,” the statement continued. “Jameson would never intentionally jeopardize the integrity of the game he loves so much and looks forward to getting back to his team as soon as possible.”

What can players do?

Lest you think that everything is off limits, the NFL policy does concede: “For clarity, playing cards or other casino-type games is permitted as long as nothing of value is wagered.”