NFL Suspensions for Gambling Highlight Need for Player Support

The NFL Draft is this week (April 27-29) but that’s not the biggest news to come out of the NFL through the weekend. On Friday (April 21) it was announced that five players have been suspended for violating league’s gambling policy.

There were two teams involved. The Detroit Lions suspended four players, including Stanley Berryhill III, Jameson Williams, Quintez Cephus, C.J. Moore while the Washington Commanders suspended Shaka Toney. The Lions have also fired several staff members from various departments in the organization who were reported to be involved. 

The length of player suspensions varied upon severity as they applied to the NFL’s gambling policy. Williams and Berryhill have each only been suspended for 6 games. Moreover, they are both eligible to participate in offseason and preseason team activities, including preseason games. Meanwhile, the other three (Cephus, Moore and Toney) have been suspended indefinitely for at least one year. The earliest they can apply for reinstatement is in April of 2024. Furthermore, the Lions released Cephus and Moore from their contracts within minutes of the league’s suspension announcement.

Why the variation in punitive measures? Williams and Berryhill received lesser suspensions because they didn’t bet on NFL games. They wagered on college football games online, which is permitted by the league’s policy with one caveat; permitted (non-NFL) and legal (by state) online wagers cannot be made while physically within a league facility. Williams and Berryhill had placed online bets from within the Lion’s practice facility. Alternatively, it was reported that Cephus, Moore and Toney did bet on NFL games which is a clear and direct violation of policy.

The actions of Williams and Berryhill could be boiled down to an oversight, while Cephus, Moore and Toney would have a hard time pleading confusion regarding the league’s policy. We’re not here to debate that. Instead, the question should focus on why any player would risk gambling when they know that the risk of a potentially career-ending consequence is so high? It’s not just the amount of wagers being left on the table, but possibly millions in unfulfilled contracts.

It’s this compromised ability to weight consequences against the activity that draws one to consider that underlying behavioral health concerns may be at play. Among the signs and symptoms of problem gambling is continued participation without regard for consequence. We’re not saying that Williams, Berryhill, Cephus, Moore and Toney, or others who have violated the policy have gambling disorder and should receive leniency accordingly. Rather, this recent event calls for more discussion about providing players with greater access to confidential problem gambling support services.

Let’s say (speculation) that either Williams, Berryhill, Cephus, Moore or Toney were fully aware of the consequences and knew that they should abstain from gambling and get help. Would they feel as if they had somewhere safe to turn? Or would they feel that admitting to problem gambling would lead to suspensions all the same, complete with a stigma to follow them around for the rest of their careers? Only individual players can answer that.

One governing body that recognizes this, is the NFL Players Association’s Professional Athletes Foundation (PAF). At the end of 2022, the NFLPA’s  Professional Athletes Foundation partnered with Kindbridge Behavioral Health to create a first-of-its-kind mental health program. Program offerings help former NFL players openly discuss mental health topics which includes problem gambling. This is a player-only program that allows them to talk confidentially amongst their peers in virtual group settings while also getting help from mental health specialists with expertise in problem gambling. View more about this important new partnership and program here.

Kindbridge’s virtual treatment center for gambling disorder offers support services in a confidentialsafe, and welcoming environment. The platform provides options for players, their families, and for athletic organizations and their staff. Contact Kindbridge today. to learn more about how a program can be customized for your organization.

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