Despite the NFL’s encouragement to the world to forget its suspension of Josh Shaw for betting on NFL games, it’s difficult to do so when so many questions remain. Coming from a league that can’t provide a concrete and consistent definition of the terms, “defensive pass interference” and “catch,” taking the NFL at its word that Shaw’s actions didn’t affect any games and he was a lone wolf who went rogue is a struggle to blindly accept.
For the sports betting industry, this is no trivial matter. Bettors and books alike depend on the premise that the contests are decided on the field, not by whether or not a player in them has some skin in the game from a gambling perspective. That’s why the NFL’s handling of the situation is not only insufficient given the gravity of the situation but becomes more problematic on a grander scale.
Where’s the transparency?
The NFL says it conducted an internal investigation and determined that Shaw’s betting did not influence any games. The league offers no path to that determination or even proof that it did an investigation at all.
We don’t know how the NFL became aware of Shaw’s betting and if what the Arizona Cardinals say is true, the league didn’t inform Shaw’s current club about the investigation. That’s a glaring inconsistency in the NFL’s spin.
How the league could conduct a thorough investigation of Shaw’s activity without involving, much less even informing, all the clubs Shaw has ever played for is puzzling. If Shaw used a legal sportsbook on at least one occasion, that information would be pertinent for that operator as well.
Such an operator would likely be interested so it could at least perform a review of its procedures to ensure its employees were compliant and that there are no loopholes in its protocol that professional athletes can easily exploit.
The spin move
It’s easy to understand why the NFL made the choices it did, however.
Spinning a narrative that Shaw’s gambling is a minor offense and had no impact on any of the NFL’s contests represents the best-case scenario for the league. If it got out that Shaw was part of a larger effort to fix games or even on his own manipulated events, that’s a far worse set of circumstances for the NFL.
As problematic as the situation is on an island, there is no island for it. Professional sports leagues like the NFL are still lobbying for state governments to force legal sportsbooks to pay them a royalty.
Although the NFL isn’t itself active on that front, it’s highly unlikely the league would turn down free money if some state did acquiesce to the demands of MLB, the NBA and the PGA. In that scenario, the way the NFL handled this situation becomes as much of an issue as Shaw’s betting on NFL games.
If a league like the NFL is collecting a private tax from companies whose product depends on the NFL maintaining the integrity of its games, the bar for enforcement and transparency needs to be higher than was put on display with Shaw. The NFL, or any other similar league in a situation like this, would have to provide verifiable evidence of its claims that an athlete’s improper bets didn’t affect events and that he/she wasn’t part of a larger scheme.
If leagues like the NFL aren’t ready to open themselves up to such public scrutiny then they need to drop their campaign for a private sportsbook tax. A simple expectation for the industry to accept a convenient end to investigations at face value isn’t good enough when sportsbooks are paying for much more.