NFL Ban on Player Game Betting Hypocritical, But It’s the Rule, Attorneys Caution

Posted on: March 27, 2021, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: March 27, 2021, 11:13h.

Josh Shaw’s almost 16-month suspension for gambling on NFL games shows how the league’s policies against pro players making any type of league wagers remain firmly in place. That’s despite the NFL’s move to embrace legal sports betting to engage fans, sports law specialists said.

NFL Rules are rules
Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw (27) during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019. Later that year. he was suspended for betting on games. (Image: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today)

Shaw was suspended for 21 games for placing bets on NFL games while he was a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Shaw bet on a Cardinals-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game as part of a three-team parlay, CBS Sports reported.

The activity happened while the defensive back was on injured reserve during the 2019 season. Recently, Shaw finally was cleared to once again play pro football.

“Despite changes in the NFL’s tolerance and acceptance of sports betting after so many years, the policies restricting players are still in place,” Anthony Brandt, executive director of Villanova University Law School’s Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law, told, when asked about the incident.

“From a player perspective, it seems somewhat hypocritical,” Brandt added about the suspension.

An attorney, Brandt formerly worked for ProServ, Inc., where he represented Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Boomer Esiason, as well as other pro athletes. Later, he was a vice president for the Green Bay Packers and a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles. He also was a legal and business analyst for ESPN.

“Players are not immune from NFL discipline for gambling, especially on the NFL,” Brandt explained. “Active players should refrain — due to both policies and optics.”

Robert Hacker agreed. Hacker is now a sports law attorney who formerly worked as vice president of Business and Legal Affairs for Fox Sports for 18 years and is the current president of the Sports Lawyers Association. He said that the NFL “has historically banned any gambling or gambling-related activities.

“This runs so deep that, rumor has it that if you are found with a March Madness bracket in the NFL offices, you can lose your job,” Hacker told “As the NFL has allowed DFS — Daily Fantasy Sports — to advertise and be a part of NFL-related broadcasts, [and] permitted casinos to have signage or sponsorship of member clubs, one has to question how deep the league goes with the gambling universe.”

But none of these issues relate to player discipline. “If the bottom line is maintaining the integrity of the game, then the appearance of impropriety that arises from a player betting on games, whether that [is a] player’s own team or on other games, [it] is a bridge too far to cross,” Hacker said.

Rules Are Rules

“Rules are rules, and if the league prohibits players from gambling, which furthers the goal of maintaining the fairness and integrity of the game, then those who violate those rules must pay a price. Assuming, of course, that there was real procedural due process,” Hacker explained.

He notes how one-time baseball player Pete Rose claimed he never bet against his team.

“But he still bet, which was prohibited, and he paid the most severe price — maybe after the 1919 White Sox,” Hacker said, referring to a team that threw the World Series.

NFL players also need to remember the life of an NFL player is short, under four years on average, Hacker said.

“Even the minimum salary is often-times the most these young men will ever make,” Hacker said. “So, why risk cutting short an already statistically short career?”

His advice to NFL players: “Follow the rules and if you decide to break them, understand the consequences, which, in turn, should keep you from destroying your career.”

NFL’s 2019 Hard Stand Against Betting

It was in 2019 when the NFL issued a memo to all players and team personnel reminding them of the league’s hard position against betting on pro football.

“The continued success of the NFL depends directly on each of us doing everything necessary to safeguard the integrity of the game and the reputations of all who participate in the league,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a November 2019 statement.

“At the core of this responsibility is the longstanding principle that betting on NFL games, or on any element of a game, puts at risk the integrity of the game, damages public confidence in the NFL, and is forbidden under all circumstances. If you work in the NFL in any capacity, you may not bet on NFL football.”