Sports

Miles Austin case exposes flaws and inconsistencies in NFL’s policies

Atlanta Falcons v New York Jets - NFL London Games 2021 - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

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The legalization of sports betting, coupled with the NFL’s embrace of multiple gambling sponsorships, creates plenty of concerns that would require careful thought, well-crafted strategy, and plenty of money to properly address, in order to create the impression that the league takes the situation very seriously. Arguably, the league has opted instead to throw the book at anyone who steps across the fairly bright line of “thou shalt not bet.”

Violators who gamble on things they shouldn’t get a minimum suspension of one year, no questions asked. Receiver Calvin Ridley, who bet roughly $1,500 on a five-game parlay while absent from the Falcons during the 2021 season, drew a minimum ban of one year. The league has levied the identical punishment against Jets receivers coach Miles Austin, even though he didn’t bet on football.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Austin (who made millions during his playing career) was wagering roughly $50 here and there on basketball games. He didn’t know he was prevented from betting on sports other than football.

How could he not know that, you may ask? The problem is that two standards apply. Players can bet on sports other than football; coaches can’t. As the source explained it, some coaches (especially former players who became coaches) aren’t aware of the distinction.

But the league doesn’t care. There’s no explanation or discretion or anything other than “come back, one year.”

And the league leaked the information to its in-house media conglomerate before Austin’s appeal had been resolved. Two days before Christmas.

Per the source, Austin’s contract expires after the season. Why not let him just finish the year and quietly walk away?

That, of course, would have prevented the NFL from putting a head on a spike at the border of DraftKing’s Landing.

Meanwhile, others get far lesser punishments for arguably far greater affronts to the game or The Shield. Six games for steroids. Six games, baseline, for domestic violence. Eleven games for Deshaun Watson‘s extended pattern of trying to make massage therapy sessions into sexual encounters.

The league will say there can be no toleration of any type of gambling, which requires the extreme punishment even in the most innocuous of cases — and even if the coach can truthfully say he didn’t know he couldn’t bet on sports other than football. That’s fine, as long as the league brings that same energy to other ways that the intersection of football and legalized gambling can create problems.

One easy (but unrealistic) approach would be to stop taking money from sports books. The fact that Austin was suspended for using an app created by a sports book that sponsors the NFL makes the whole thing seem next-level nutty.

Of course, the horse has long since left the barn on that one. The revenue stream won’t be abandoned, not at this point. But some of that money should be used to shore up officiating (full-time officials, for starters), to embrace technology that will assist in the officiating of games (cameras in all pylons, for example), and to adopt clear and firm policies and practices for protecting inside information (such as injuries that aren’t commonly known).

Until the league makes it clear that steps are being taken to avoid far greater threats to the integrity of the game than an assistant coach betting $50 on basketball games, any effort to publicly shame him and then to push him out of the NFL for at least a year looks like window dressing aimed at creating the impression the league is taking the many threats presented by legalized gambling seriously.

Even if it isn’t.

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