Bet you don't know this gambling scandal

The NFL made sure you heard about the receiver casting bets yet it was crickets when The New Yorker detailed an offensive play-caller collaborating with a known gambling tout.

Fine. He deserves it. The Falcons receiver broke his occupation’s red-letter law, betting on games not just in his sport, not just in his league, but involving his own team. And while there may be a little hypocrisy in the NFL’s decision to suspend him for a year for what he says are $1,500 worth of wagers, you can’t call it unfair. Thems the rules.

But what would you say about a coach who calls the offensive plays for his team who gets a weekly memo from a guy who has fashioned himself somewhat of a gambling guru? Not only that, but in this weekly memo, the gambling guru — who even uses a pseudonym — suggested the team target a specific back-up tight end, and in that week’s game, the offensive play-caller in fact targets that back-up tight end in a goal-line set resulting in a touchdown.

This isn’t some hypothetical scenario. The gambling guru is Warren Sharp. At least that’s what he goes by. The reporter was Danny Funt, and his story was published in a not-so-small magazine: The New Yorker. Funt even spoke to the coach, who confirmed he had in fact talked to Sharp.

Here’s the passage from Funt’s story:

That’s a coach who calls plays in the NFL saying he talks weekly to Sharp, who has openly stated he works with a Vegas-based betting syndicate and who also charges patrons $899 annually for his betting advice.

The NFL’s reaction: (sound of crickets).

No high-minded commitment to get to the bottom of this. No policy clarification on the firewalls that prohibit people like Sharp who offer sports-betting advice and bet on sports from not just speaking to NFL coaches, but providing any input to teams. The league has not acknowledged the story to my knowledge, but don’t worry, they’ve suspended Ridley for a whole year to show you just how serious they are about keeping the gambling interests that are now padding their bottom line from actually impacting the game.

“Your actions put the integrity of the game at risk,” wrote Roger Goodell in his letter informing Ridley of the punishment,  “threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.

“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction.”

Was it a more significant violation than a coach taking input from a known gambler and active tout? I don’t think so. However, the latter would implicate not just the coach who was talking to Sharp, but any team paying Sharp or taking input from him. With Ridley, the red-headed hammer of a commissioner was free to mount his high horse without fear of impugning the integrity of the NFL’s on-field product. Ridley wasn’t even active at the time.

Ridley’s case is being described as an example of the kind of issues that sports leagues will have to deal with now that sports gambling is increasingly legal in this country. That’s not really true, though, because while it may be easier now to make a bet, given that some form of sports betting is now legal in 30 of the 50 states, only an idiot thinks it just became possible to make bets and it has always been against the rules.

The actual danger here comes from the fact that legalized gambling means companies like FanDuel, DraftKings and Fanatics in addition to established casinos are now spending money and making partnerships with people who are providing information about the teams and people playing in the games. ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Patriots owner Bob Kraft are among the investors in Boom Entertainment, which is developing a gambling app.

How will the leagues keep team employees from providing what amounts to inside information to people who will then use it to make bets — or more likely — sell it to inform people who are making bets? It’s easier to regulate whether someone bets than it is to monitor the substance of conversations with people who make bets, take bets or give betting advice. Sharp is very easy to identify in part because he’s so boastful. He openly bragged about his gambling success and his contacts in the league, but not everyone is going to be as dumb as him in this regard.

Now, I’ve never taken Sharp all that seriously. I became aware of him through Twitter several years ago, attributing his increasingly high profile more to his proficiency with social media than expertise with the sport. It’s not that I thought he was less insightful or provided worse information than your standard member of NFL media, he just didn’t strike me as being better than any of them either.

The single most surprising thing from the New Yorker story that there was a coach in a significant position of power who used input from this guy. But it’s clear he did, and it should be equally clear why that is a problem for anyone who’s truly concerned about the influence of gambling in the league.

Or maybe the NFL considers this the equivalent of a white-collar crime. The coach wasn’t actually making a bet himself. He’s just having regular contact with and taking personnel advice from a guy who advertises himself as an asset to gamblers and brags about how well he does himself.

But it’s clear from the story it happened, the question is if the NFL is going to do anything about it.

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