The lesser of two evils?


NFL ‘s Self-contradictory Policies on Gambling

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
George Orwell, 1984

On November 15th, at the end of a game against archrival Pittsburgh, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett got into a very public brawl -on live TV, in fact- with Steelers quarterback the-mouthpiece-the-lesser-of-two-evils-minMason Rudolph. After tackling Rudolph, Garrett continued to fight, which is unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness. And then Garrett tore off Rudolph’s helmet and used it as a club, pounding Rudolph on the head repeatedly. That’s aggravated assault, and even possibly assault with a deadly weapon. No criminal charges were filed, but Garrett found himself fined and suspended for the rest of this football season, including any postseason games.

He may be reinstated as soon next season, but will probably have to undergo anger management rehab in the meantime. Any lesser penalty would be bad for the image of pro football.

On November 30, the NFL suspended Arizona Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw “indefinitely”, for at least the rest of the current season. He will not be able to apply for reinstatement until 2021. His offense? Nothing less than the Big Unforgivable. He bet on sports; particularly, professional football.

Never mind that he placed those bets in a completely lawful venue- the MGM in Vegas, in fact. Never mind that he did not throw a game, or even think about it.

Shaw has been on the injured reserve all season, and has not played at all this year. He did not use or reveal any sort of insider information, and he conspired with exactly no one. His fellow players and coaches didn’t even know that he had placed any bets. He did not attempt to disguise who he was, and signed the register with his own name, listing his occupation as a professional football player.

No, never mind any of that. He gambled; therefore he has got to go. Commissioner Goodell restated the league’s position: anybody who works for the NFL in any connection whatsoever is forbidden to bet on it, “To safeguard the integrity of the game”, as he put it.

It’s okay when we do it

But at the same time that the Commissioner was reiterating football’s aversion to gambling, deals were being struck and partnerships arranged for a more, let us say, flexible interpretation of gambling’s relation to football, and indeed, pro sports in general.

The Oakland Raiders are scheduled to move to a new stadium being completed in…. Las Vegas ? Yep, Sin City itself. One of the founding members of this consortium is a California gaming tribe. The New York Jets have just entered a sponsorship with MGM. Caesars is one of the principal sponsors of the NFL now. The New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, all have taken casino sponsors, And the list keeps growing. Fan Duel, the fantasy sports giant, now has contracts with no fewer than 15 NFL teams for display and advertising rights. This in addition to Fan Duel’s partnership with the NBA and Major League Baseball. The NHL has MGM as their casino sponsor as well.

Well, if one sidelined cornerback making a few bets is a threat, an active danger to the integrity of the sports, what about whole teams and even leagues embracing casino megacorporations? Apparently, the danger to the integrity of football, indeed pro sports in general, seems to be an inverse function of the size of the sponsorship. One player making a bet on a particular game is taboo, a threat to the purity of the enterprise. But billion-dollar casinos buying sponsorships for the whole season, perhaps for years, is quite acceptable.

Future tense

This is what George Orwell called “doublethink” : holding two completely opposing beliefs or positions, and somehow believing in both of them. “Sports betting is bad for the integrity of sports”, we are told. But it’s perfectly fine when the shekels go to the right receivers.

Is this a new hypocrisy? No, rather it is the end of an old one. When the contracts and sponsorships take effect, gambling will become simply part of the pro sports ecosystem. It will work, and it will work honestly. The old shibboleths about corruption and crime will be seen for the overblown farce that they really are. Anti-gambling hysteria will lose its edge, and the people who make their living finding hobgoblins and secret menaces will simply have to settle on another bogeyman. Don’t worry, they’ll find one.

Mr. Owens is a California attorney specializing in the law of Internet and interactive gaming since 1998. Co-author of INTERNET GAMING LAW with Professor Nelson Rose, (Mary Ann Liebert Publishers, 2nd ed 2009); Associate Editor, Gaming Law Review & Economics; Contributing Editor, TSN. Comments/inquiries welcome at [email protected].