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The Big Gamble: NFL Needs To Be Careful of ‘Unintended Consequences’ That Betting Could Bring

Examining a few unanswered questions about how pro football, and sports in general, will respond in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision

There’s something disquieting about this blood-lust excitement over the prospect of betting $20 on your phone, even money, on whether Mitchell Trubisky is going to throw or hand off on the next snap, and if it’s a pass, whether you’d wager 5-1 odds that Allen Robinson will catch it.

There’s such a thing as having too much chocolate ice cream by being handed a half gallon of it every day. I fear America satisfying its gambling jones might be it. Of course I’m an older guy, 60, and I probably act out of caution more than a college senior would. And, truly, if alcohol and cigarettes and guns and other things that can harm you are legal, there’s no reason why gambling on sports events in the other 49 states should be illegal. But that doesn’t mean this is going to be great for our society.

A few questions:

• Will football players be able to bet on football games?

• Will employees of NFL teams be able to bet on football games?

• Will college games be open for betting? What about college lacrosse and college soccer?

• If the NFL prohibits players from betting on football games, and a player is found to have done so, will he be suspended the same length of games a player gets whacked for PEDs? More games? Less?

• Will the NFL have to employ a gambling czar? And 32 enforcements officers, one per team, to make sure there’s no funny business going on?

• Will the NFL have its own Pete Rose case?

• Will the money be worth the worry?

There is no question there are some benefits for the NFL—some very big ones. I was with some other people close to the NFL at a dinner Monday night, while the Supreme Court ruling was still being digested. I’ll sum up. They were excited about the money potential, to be sure. They were excited that fans who might not otherwise be engaged in an inconsequential Cleveland-Cincinnati game in Week 15 would be engaged if they could put some money on it. They were excited about potential TV-rating hikes for all games. They were excited that every play of 267 regular-season and postseason games would be meaningful to more people. But I’d say the operative word among these people was caution. There’s just too much they didn’t know yet.

At The MMQB, we once called leading sports-business consultant Marc Ganis “the 33rd owner.” I wanted to know what he thought of the past two days, when the NFL’s 10-year effort to prevent gambling on games from seeping beyond the Nevada borders was knocked down by the Supreme Court.

“I just wonder: Are people aware of the unintended consequences?” Ganis, the founder of consulting firm Sportscorp., said Tuesday night. “Is there a danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg? Potentially, potentially, this could be opening a Pandora’s box in many ways. For instance, are players and officials and team officials willing to potentially sacrifice some of their personal privacy? If a guy drops a pass, what’s the first thing people will think of? I am concerned that, with some people, there’s such a headlong rush for the money that they haven’t thought of all these issues.”

Ganis is a pragmatist, as I am. The NFL is going to figure a way to put some insurance policies in place, but insurance policies are not going to stop every chance of a Pete Rose story happening. Gambling will be far more prevalent now than it was in the eighties, when Rose illegally bet on baseball with bookies. It’s going to be so much easier to bet now, apparently.

What the Supreme Court's Decision to Legalize Sports Betting Could Mean for the NFL

I’m not saying America shouldn’t have the ability to place legal bets on football games. I’m saying be careful what you wish for.

“The league knows it’s going to have to be concerned with the perception and the reality of integrity,” Ganis said.

Concerned is too mild a word. “Obsessed” might be better.

Now for your email:

Matt Patricia deserves to coach with the presumption of innocence despite being indicted for [sexual assault]. I wish I could be surprised by you saying that, despite you leading the torch and pitchfork brigade about Zeke Elliott who was never charged much less indicted. His only accuser was found to not be credible by the NFL investigators, the prosecutors and the police.​
—Alex, Albany, N.Y.

Alex, we’re talking two different times, a generation apart. The Patricia story is 22 years old, with a case that was dropped eight years before he applied for his first NFL job. Barring additional damning facts against Patricia coming forward, he does not deserve to be suspended by the NFL over this. The Elliott story happened after he was drafted into the NFL. Much has been made of the facts of the Elliott case, and it’s true he was not indicted nor brought to trial on the charges by Tiffany Thompson. But his case coincided with the NFL ramping up its discipline over domestic violence. Whatever side you’re on here, the comparison does not hold water.

Matt Millen Fights For His Life: ‘It’s Getting Late. We Need a Big Stop’

By no means do I condone any of the actions described in the 22-year-old indictment. However, as you wrote, he was never convicted of any wrongdoing. On top of that, he was employed by another billion dollar football team who also states they never knew. This isn’t about red flags within the Lions hiring process, it’s about red flags throughout professional and collegiate sports when it comes to hiring/employing coaches and players.​
—Brian K.

Agreed. And I think every team will get the message here: Probe your big hires much more thoroughly.

A lot has been said by many media outlets about the Lions not knowing about Matt Patricia’s situation but how did this go unnoticed by the Patriots? Did they know and not consider it a story? I agree that he should be presumed to be innocent but cannot fathom that this story never surfaced while he was a member of the Patriots. Many are slamming the Lions for the process they use; why no questioning the Patriots?​
—Michael G. 

I do think the questions have been asked. And they are valid.

When you mentioned the article on Jim Palmer, you referred to him finding his “real” parents. That is an unintended insult to those of us who are adoptive parents. Those young people in New York conceived Mr. Palmer but they never “parented” him for a minute. As we all know, parenting is loving, guiding and nurturing children throughout their lives. It comes with highs and lows. It comes with surprises and great joy. It comes from work and dedication. It is pure love.​
—Jim G., Cockeysville, Md., Adoptive parent since 1987 

You’re absolutely right, Jim. Poor choice of words. I should have used “birth parents.” Thanks for pointing it out, and giving me a lesson in the value of real parenting.

Anthony Lynn Gets his Degree for his Players, for his Family and for Himself

I’m a long-time reader and a longer-time Browns fan. Back in 2009 I bought your book “Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback: A fully caffeinated guide to everything you need to know about the NFL” and didn’t hesitate when you offered to sign any copy your readers sent to you since you didn’t have the time to do a proper book tour. You wrote, “Jeremy – Have faith! Browns will bounce back! Peter King.” My question is simple: Will my faith pay off this year?​
—Jeremy G., Cleveland

Glad there wasn’t an expiration date on that prediction, Jeremy. Can’t believe you still have the book! Thanks for the memory. I am not sure your faith will pay off this year, but I do think the right front-office team is in place, and the players will play hard for this coach. My gut feeling is Baker Mayfield mostly sits this year (that would be best for him long-term) and prepares to start the 2019 season. But we’ll see. The one thing I like about what I saw in Cleveland last month is the front office is in harmony over the picks and the architecture. As for the wins, that’s going to be largely up to whether they made the right pick with Mayfield.

In 1959, at the age of 7, I had open-heart surgery at University of Michigan hospital for restricted pulmonary valve and a hole between the upper two chambers. I never had any problems but always wanted to do things the hard and physical way to overcompensate. The last few years I have been getting a little shortness of breath but I am 65 years old even though my mind says I am still 25. I have been getting extensive checkups at the Michigan hospital the last few years just because it is the smart thing to do. After reading about Matt Millen' s situation I called my cardiologist and asked about amyloidosis. We are pretty sure I don't have it but we are monitoring the situation. Please let Matt Millen know he has educated at least one person.​
—George S., Highland, Mich.

George, Matt will be thrilled to hear it. I’ll make sure he reads your mail.

Thanks for the good read on Matt Millen. Until a year ago, I’d never heard of amyloidosis. Then, in a span of 24 hours, my best friend growing up was diagnosed on a Sunday and gone by Monday afternoon. He was 58. Like Matt Millen, he’d seen specialists and been in and out of hospitals for several months. It’s amazing that in this day and age, it takes so long to come up with a diagnosis.​
—Bob S. 

It’s amazing, as you say, that this disease has remained so hard to diagnose. When I talked to Sean McDonough about it, he was stunned that in 2003 his father, famed sportswriter Will McDonough, was given a clean bill of health on the same day he later died … and even more stunned that it took so long to diagnose Millen 15 years later. I hope the publicity around Millen gets more people, and doctors, to consider amyloidosis more seriously in patients.

In your piece on Matt Millen and sidebar on Chuck Knox, you make two important points: 1) the importance of the quarterback; 2) the importance of a Super Bowl on a Hall of Famer’s résumé. I agree both are significant, but isn’t the Hall of Fame a measure of the contributions or impact that a player, coach or executive had on the game during their career—something that goes beyond big wins? Chuck Knox understood how to get the most out of his players and create a winning culture. That’s an incredible and often underappreciated achievement! Most of us have been in lousy workplaces, and you can see how “the fish rots from the head” in those circumstances … There is no question the quarterback is important, but what’s more important is the culture that produces successful quarterbacks. Chuck Knox unquestionably created that culture, which extended to all players, and that is a testament to him and proof that his was a Hall of Fame-worthy career.​ Thank you for your great work at SI. I will miss reading your work in The MMQB.​
—Glen W., Bayonne, N.J.

Superb points, and thanks for the kind words, too. One of the truly hard things to do as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee is to factor in things like the creation of a culture, and how much credit a coach should get for that. With Knox, you’re absolutely right—though he didn’t win a Super Bowl, he did turn around three struggling teams, markedly and quickly. Thanks for the smart email, Glen.

The Jenny Vrentas article on Chargers coach Anthony Lynn going back to college to get his degree, as well Peter King’s article on Matt Millen, are just two of many reasons that make The MMQB an important must read for me! I love the football analysis every week, but it’s the human interest reporting that makes this website so much better than others. I was worried with Peter’s departure that you might lose his wonderful perspective, but Jenny Vrentas’ article makes me feel so much better knowing that Peter has left an excellent impression on those who follow in his footsteps. We can watch our favorite athletes perform every week (heck – every day), and never realize there is so much more depth to these persons that we can relate to.
—Bill B.

I’ll be sure to tell the staff, Bill. Really appreciate your words. I’m proud of the staff, and you’ll love following the writers’ development over the coming years.

I am sure by now you have been flooded with comments and emails since you announced you would be leaving for NBC Sports. I always enjoyed reading your MMQB articles. My question for you is since you have been working at Sports Illustrated, you have interviewed hundreds if not thousands of NFL players. Is there a specific player who was your favorite to interview and what attributes would make this player your top interview during your tenure at Sports Illustrated​.
—Kevin F. 

Thanks for the kind words, Kevin. I am going to reminisce a bit in next Monday’s column about my favorite this-and-thats over 29 years. For now, I’ll say it’s very hard to beat Brett Favre. He was good at everything—letting his mind just spill out and saying anything that came to him, mostly. He put images and plays into words with color and fun stories consistently.

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