A Somewhat Silly Solution to Sports Betting

The NFL and other leagues have been avoiding a battle against sports betting for far too long, and I present to you a (somewhat) feasible solution.

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By Carmen Gomez-Villalva

Amidst the recent scandal surrounding baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani, the topic of sports betting is more relevant than ever. Seemingly every month, a new story breaks out—whether that be in English soccer or the MLB—about a player involved in some form of sports betting. Since the Supreme Court legalized it in 2018, sports betting is everywhere we look, from towering billboards on the street to advertisements on TV. We can’t escape it, and neither can athletes. However, unlike the public, athletes are prohibited from betting on sports, including on themselves. And to that point, I raise to you this question: Why? Why can’t they bet on their own success?

To preface, let me say this: gambling of all types is dangerous. It can be and is addicting to many. If one does gamble, they should do so in moderation and be responsible. However, my argument is not that gambling is “good”—quite the opposite, frankly. Rather, if everyone else is allowed to benefit off of an athlete, the athlete should be allowed to as well.

Currently, the rules for sports betting for athletes in all major American leagues, FIFA, and competitions around the world prohibit it to different extents. However, one thing remains the same: athletes cannot bet on themselves.

I fully agree that they should be prohibited from betting on the under, the moneyline, or the spread simply because these three ways of betting allow bettors to profit off athletic underperformance. But what if athletes were allowed to bet on the over? Or in other words, be allowed to bet on themselves scoring more points, goals, assists—whatever it may be.

At first glance, the obvious issue is that players have influence on the outcome. And while that is true, I believe that my idea would only boost their performances. With more money on the line, one can expect players to play harder, run faster, and contribute to a more competitive game. Though everyone benefits from this, the most important beneficiaries are the fans. From a fan’s perspective, lack of competitiveness and physicality plagues leagues such as the NBA and NFL. A drastic rule change that puts more money at stake for players would solve this.

We see the impacts of sports betting already; fans have become rowdier than ever over their parlays and whatnot. Videos and photos of fans plummeting into hysteria over their bets are sprawled all over the internet. Thanks to the ease of betting, people who previously had no experience in sports are watching every match praying that their betting line is fulfilled. I’ll let you decide whether or not their erratic behavior is a good thing, but one thing is certain: people care more when more money is involved.

While critics may argue that this theory is untested, I believe that we actually see it everywhere today. Players from all leagues have incentives in their contracts that reward them with huge bonuses for hitting a certain number of whatever it may be, from goals, to touchdowns, to home runs. We already see that teams follow this line of thinking to motivate players to perform better. The only thing that would change with legalizing sports betting for players is that they would play harder more frequently.

Although some would believe that athletes would not be tempted to bet because of their lucrative salaries, that isn’t always the case. Athletes—particularly ones of physically taxing sports—know that their careers are limited, and like any other person, would want to capitalize on potential monetary gain. The average NFL career lasts just 3.3 years, significantly less than the length of an average worker’s career. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow, and anyone’s career could be cut short in an instant. Additionally, unlike the average worker’s skills, which can allow them to hop between jobs when leaving one position, athletes are highly specialized, and getting removed from the top leagues marks an end of a career and a restart to life.

The reason why this is even an issue is because of our toxic modern American sports culture. Each year, tens of millions of Americans bet on sports, forcing athletes to watch helplessly as others profit off their performance. If the leagues expect that athletes will just sit there, they’re mistaken. NFL stars Calvin Ridley, C.J. Moore, and Jameson Williams are all victims of sports betting suspensions, with many more big names sure to come.

What’s disturbing is how the NFL handled the aforementioned situations. For Ridley, he bet on his own team, resulting in a one-year suspension. Though athletes should refrain from breaking rules, it is hardly his own fault. In The Players’ Tribune, Ridley wrote that he started after being tempted by a TV commercial. The case of Ridley is a commentary on our dangerous sports world today, which only grows from the abhorrent number of sportsbook advertisements in living rooms. Leagues are brashly pushing for more people to bet and expect athletes not to be tempted to do the same. The case of Ridley underlines their lack of morals and the leagues’ pursuit of money through their sponsorships with betting companies. Case in point: Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings, and FanDuel are all major sponsors of the NFL, quite literally putting billions in the NFL’s pockets—profits that are not shared with the players.

In Williams’s case, he bet on a non-NFL game at a team facility, which earned a six game suspension. There are a multitude of concerns stemming from that; firstly, Williams claims he had no idea that he was breaking any rules, which could be seen as a testament to the NFL’s lack of care for their players. More importantly, however, the NFL altered their rule for betting on non-league games to a 2-game suspension which would increase after repeated violations while Williams was serving his suspension, yet they made no attempt to shorten or end his suspension in accordance with their new rules.

This only adds to the generally held belief that the NFL does not care about the well-being of their players. I could go on and list their faults: a lack of grass fields, insufficient prevention from CTE, and more. But my point is this: the NFL—and many other major sports leagues—needs to stop focusing on what the players are doing wrong, but instead why. Why is this happening? The answer is obvious: Because of the leagues’ greed.

Though I have focused on the NFL, this issue extends far past them. All four major American sports leagues have deals with multiple sportsbooks, with countless teams in those respective leagues also holding connections with sportsbooks. The idea is now engrained in so many Americans’ minds because of its accessibility. People can bet on anything they want in any league they want, ranging from the color of Gatorade dumped in the Super Bowl to the number of points scored in the final of March Madness.

This is a pressing problem of the present, and leagues need to deal with it. The industry isn’t expected to go anywhere, as the sports betting market is expected to eclipse $232 billion by 2032, and has been legalized in 38 states, with more on the way. Its growth will only lead to bigger and more frequent instances of players finding themselves in hot water because of sports betting.

Now, I know not to be naïve and hope for the NFL and other leagues to allow players to bet on themselves (the NFL stands for “No Fun League”, after all). There are flaws in my plan, too (say, if there’s a mutual understanding between teams to let a player hit their bet and cash out for a billion dollars). But I make this argument to shed light on the issue of sports betting that plagues our country today. The status quo is hypocritical and cannot continue as such. The time to address this shadowed disease is now.