Unlike baseball legend Pete Rose, former NFL All-Pro receiver Calvin Ridley appears ready (and allowed) to rebound from a calamitous gambling controversy.
Ridley, the former Atlanta Falcon and current Jacksonville Jaguar, penned an emotional letter for The Players’ Tribune, chronicling his difficult upbringing and explaining away the gambling incident that cost the 2020 second-team All-Pro receiver his entire 2022 season.
“I f***ed up. I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. In 2021, I made the worst mistake of my life by gambling on football,” Ridley wrote right off the bat.
One of the bets that Ridley placed involved his then-team, the Falcons, which is a clear violation of NFL rules.
To be clear, Ridley denied that he had any inside information that would’ve given him an untoward advantage.
“I was going to bet like $200 on some NBA games that night, but then I just added a bunch more games to a parlay,” Ridley wrote. “I put the Falcons in on it. I was just doing it to root on my boys, basically. I didn’t have any inside information. I wasn’t even talking to anybody on the team at the time. I was totally off the grid.”
On March 7, 2022, the NFL announced that Ridley would be indefinitely suspended for betting on those NFL games, per ESPN.
The 28-year-old was ultimately reinstated on Monday, just shy of being suspended for a full year. As ESPN noted, that 364-day suspension cost Ridley $11.1 million in salary.
During that time away from football, Ridley wasn’t just traded from the Falcons to his home state Jaguars (Ridley was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida). He was also finding himself with quite a bit of time for self-reflection.
“All I want is for people to understand that, when I made those bets, there was a hell of a lot more going on with me,” Ridley wrote for The Players’ Tribune.
Ridley largely traced his current issues to one small, but very important, factoid: He was in pain.
“It started with my body breaking down. Hardly anybody knows this, but I played most of the 2020 season with a broken foot. Remember that 1,300-yard season? Nine touchdowns? I was killing it on one foot, for real,” Ridley said.
That 2020 season thrust Ridley into the spotlight as a bona fide star, and also earned him those All-Pro honors, but it came after years of pain (mis)management.
“Actually, I had played through bone spurs my first two years. Just gritted through it with painkillers,” Ridley said. “But then, my third year, the wheels came off. Week 8, we were playing Carolina and I remember looking at [former Falcons All-Pro Julio Jones] and I just knew.
“I said, ‘Nah, bro, this is different. My s*** broke.'”
Ridley then revealed that his foot injury was originally diagnosed as little more than “just a bruise.” That diagnosis convinced Ridley to simply play through the injury with Toradol shots.
When the Falcons overhauled the team staff after a disappointing year (Ridley’s All-Pro berth notwithstanding) that saw the team only win four games, the new team trainer sent him to a specialist, who immediately diagnosed him with a broken foot.
“I was under so much pressure to be out there,” Ridley said.
Part of that urgency stems from the fact that the Falcons had just traded away Jones, leaving Ridley as the primary wide receiver on the team.
“I got the surgery and rushed back, but I showed up to camp just mentally drained. I still couldn’t plant [my foot] without painkillers. So you get trapped in this cycle where it’s like, ‘If you take this pill, you can run.'”
Ridley then chronicled his troubled childhood that involved a pit stop at a foster home with his three younger brothers.
“When it comes to my family, there’s things I can’t talk about, you feel me?” Ridley wrote. “But let’s say my mom and dad lived that fast life. Some of my earliest memories are of people kicking our door down, running in with dogs.”
Much of these issues, both physical and mental, were left unchecked and eventually bubbled over when the spotlight was brightest on Ridley.
“I just f***ed up. Period. In a dark moment, I made a stupid mistake,” Ridley wrote. “I wasn’t trying to cheat the game. That’s the thing I want to make clear. At the time, I had been completely away from the team for about a month. I was still just so depressed and angry, and the days were so long. I was looking for anything to take my mind off of things and make the day go by faster. One day, I saw a TV commercial for a betting app, and for whatever reason, I downloaded it on my phone. I deposited like $1,500 total, literally just for something to do.”
For now, it appears Ridley is in as good a place as he has been in a while. In fact, he seems downright giddy about playing with the Jaguars and budding superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
“Right now, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt — mentally and physically. On the field, I’m flying. Believe me, I’m flying. That GPS band don’t lie. On my daughter’s name, if I’m healthy? With Trevor Lawrence? I’m giving Jacksonville 1,400 yards a season, period.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.