The NFL suspended Josh Shaw through at least the 2020 season after it learned that the Arizona Cardinals cornerback violated the league’s gambling policy by “betting on NFL games on multiple occasions.” One of those dates was Sunday November 10th, when Shaw reportedly placed a three-team parlay – including a second half bet against the Cardinals (he lost) – at Caesar’s sportsbook in Las Vegas. Shaw is the first professional athlete to be suspended for a gambling related offense since PASPA was struck down in May 2018.
Howie Long-Short: Considering Shaw placed a bet that requires the bettor to select the correct outcome of all three games, there’s a high likeliness that nothing nefarious was going on (the league said their internal investigation determined that no games were compromised), but the rules are clear “IF YOU WORK IN THE NFL IN ANY CAPACITY, YOU MAY NOT BET ON NFL FOOTBALL” (that’s a direct quote from a league-wide memorandum dated 11.29).
Genius Sports Group’s chief communications officer Chris Dougan says that just having bylaws on the books prohibiting those associated with a sport from gambling on games isn’t enough, that “there needs to be integrity education that goes along with them. If [a league] doesn’t drive awareness with a formal program and champion integrity from top to bottom, then it leaves itself open to players, coaches or officials falling foul.” While true, a lack of education wasn’t the problem in this particular case. The NFL has had mandatory gambling training in place “for years” and over the last two seasons “expanded that requirement to more than 10,000 [employees].” VP of communications Brian McCarthy said that “all 32 clubs, the league office, NFL Films, NFL Network – anyone who touches the game and is employed by the [league]” – now goes through a formal education regimen annually.
In addition to the education received at team headquarters during the pre-season, policy messages in the players’ manuals, paragraph 15 of the player contract and signs in all 32 locker rooms explicitly state NFL players are not to bet on league games, so Shaw has absolutely no excuse for his actions. Remarkably, the former USC Trojan didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong; reports say he cited his profession as ‘professional football player’ on the application for a betting account at the sportsbook. It should be noted that Shaw doesn’t have a history of making the best decisions. Back in college, he suffered a pair of high ankle sprains jumping off a three story balcony. He told everyone he was injured trying to save a drowning nephew. Naturally he got caught.
Since 2007, Nevada casinos have been required to “take reasonable steps” to avoid accepting (or paying out) wagers “by or on behalf of an official, owner, coach or a participant or team in the event involved with the bet”, so it’s no surprise that Caesar’s flagged both the Nevada State Gaming Control Board and NFL shortly after realizing Shaw’s ‘mistake’. The question is whether the sportsbook operator would have tipped off the league had the parlay not included the Cardinals. Considering the NFL’s “robust monitoring and information network with multiple sources of information and substantial resources in place to ensure compliance with policies and to detect improper activity” it might not have mattered. Remember, the league managed to identify several “occasions” when Shaw bet on games and it’s still not clear how that information was obtained.
An indefinite suspension through the ’20 season is a tough sentence, but Genius Sports’ Special Counsel Kevin Carpenter said, “had he just placed bets on games then the ban would have looked harsh, but if he has bet against his own team in any way then the sanction is fair and proportionate, as a perception of a lack of integrity by NFL Personnel can be just as damaging for the league.” McCarthy agrees and insists that the length of the suspension “reflects the severity of the infraction and how serious the league takes this issue. [Sports betting] has the potential to erode public confidence in our games.”
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