About a year ago, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended by the NFL for betting on games.
In a piece he penned last week, Ridley detailed how his battle with depression led to him violating the league’s policy.
Ridley placed bets with legal online sportsbooks
When Ridley placed the wagers, the Florida native was away from the team. He was at home with his family in the Sunshine State.
After playing five games with Atlanta during the 2021 season, the franchise put him on the non-football illness list. Ridley left the team to focus on his ‘mental well-being.’
For nearly the entire Florida gambling history, sports betting was illegal. However, Ridley was at home during November 2021—the one month when Florida sports betting was legal through the Seminole Tribe’s online sportsbook.
Ridley placed a few bets through a legal online sportsbook. Four months later, the league found out and suspended the Falcons star through at least the end of the 2022 season.
In November 2022, the Falcons traded the former University of Alabama standout to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week, he was reinstated by the league and will play the 2023 season in his home state of Florida.
Following his reinstatement, Ridley wrote a piece for The Players Tribune titled ‘A Letter to the Game,’ detailing the experience.
Leading up to his football absence, anxiety plagued Ridley
The 28-year-old started the article by revealing he played the 2020 season with a broken foot. The medical staff at the time told him it was just a bone bruise. As a result, he took anti-inflammatory injections every week to numb the pain.
However, the entire staff was let go after the season, and a new medical staff was hired. The new trainer sent Ridley to a specialist in Wisconsin, who gave a more serious diagnosis.
Just two months before the start of the 2021 season, Ridley underwent foot surgery. He rushed his recovery process to return for the season’s start and never felt fully healed.
“I still couldn’t play without painkillers,” wrote Ridley. “So you get trapped in this cycle where it’s like ‘If you take this pill, you can run.’”
The injury and subsequent painkiller use were the start of Ridley’s downfall. When he returned home from games, his two-year-old daughter would want to play with him. But the pain was too great. According to Ridley, he just wanted to sit in a dark room.
Home invasion put Ridley over the edge
At this point, his anxiety began to build. Then it spiked even higher after returning home after a game with his wife and child to find his house was robbed.
“Our front door was kicked in. Police cars everywhere. Our house had been robbed while we were at the game. They took a bunch of jewelry and stuff, but nothing we couldn’t replace. But then we watched the security footage and saw five or six guys come in with guns drawn. If you have a child, that’s your worst nightmare.”
He tried to deal with his problems with the help of a therapist. But it wasn’t enough. Ridley stepped away from the team and went back to Florida.
TV Commercial sparked his betting
After being home for about a month, the anxiety turned to depression. He said he wasn’t communicating with the team. Then, a television commercial planted the sports betting bug in his head.
“I was looking for anything to take my mind off of things and make the day go by faster. One Day, I saw a TV commercial for a betting app, and for whatever reason, I downloaded it on my phone. I deposited like $1,500 total, literally just for something to do. I was going to bet like $200 on some NBA games that night, but then I just added a bunch more games to a parlay.”
Among those added games was a Falcons game. He said he was doing it “to root on [his] boys.” But NFL executives won’t care about the why. They only look at the action.
“When you’re depressed, you’re not thinking about anything in the future. You’re just trying to get through the day.”
Ridley’s experience serves as a reminder for gamblers to be aware of mental health
Like every other state with gambling, Florida implements measures to ensure responsible gambling. There are several Florida gaming statutes designed to curb gambling addiction.
But as of 2022, the phrases ‘mental health,’ ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’ are not listed in any of them.
Ridley didn’t suffer from a gambling addiction. He wasn’t betting compulsively. He wouldn’t have displayed any symptoms Florida gaming employees are instructed to look for.
The wide receiver was simply numb to his betting and the effects it could have on his life. His story serves as a reminder that even if you aren’t a problem gambler, a mental health decline coupled with gambling could be just as bad.