Should the NFL Rescind Jameson Williams’ Suspension?
In late April, the NFL suspended four Detroit Lions, including first-round wide receiver Jameson Williams, for violating the NFL's gambling policy. Two players were released after indefinite suspensions while Williams and fellow receiver Stanley Berryhill, who was later cut, received unappealable 6-game suspensions. But an article by The Athletic's Kalyn Kahler sheds some light on the NFL's approach to its gambling policy that creates some discussion on whether those suspensions shouldn't be appealed.
Williams said at the beginning of OTAs that he wasn't aware his bets, which were not on NFL games, were in violation of the policy. Many brushed that comment off as immaturity. After all, a rookie not being laser-focused during a boring rundown of rules isn't the most unreasonable assumption.
The article details the NFL's questionable implementation and explanation of its gambling policy to the players from veteran players' perspectives. Each of these players were granted anonymity for the piece.
The players of course, knew betting on NFL games is very much against the policy. But the violation that Williams was suspended for, betting while in the team facility, was not fully understood by everyone. Four of the five players interviewed for the piece didn't know that aspect of the policy.
The description of how the rules were relayed prior to Williams' suspension is particularly damning and leads to the question in the headline.
From The Athletic:
“They detailed the rule, and to that point I hadn’t been in many team meetings that they carved out time for it,” said the nine-year veteran. “It’s like a page in your training camp compliance meetings. They spend like four minutes on it.
“It’s like, yeah, 'don’t gamble on the NFL.' You guys know this. Nobody spends time on it.”
Described as a sacrificial lamb to the policy by players from the article, Williams' case being unappealable sounds largely unjust. Should Williams have his suspension lifted? That's a tough argument to make. My gut says yes, but when the rules are available to be understood, it's difficult to just lift the suspension in the face of the player's ignorance - even if it was in part the league's fault.
However, if the question were shifted to 'Should Williams be able to appeal his suspension?' That I will give a resounding yes to. If the NFL was improperly relaying its regulations to players, it can't justifiably hand out a full punishment.
With owners investing in betting services, a stadium sponsored by a betting service and the NFL being sponsored by mobile betting services, the league promotes a betting culture for its fans that is denied to its players. In some ways those denials make sense. But if players can appeal suspension for actions that get them in trouble with actual law enforcement, they absolutely should be afforded the opportunity to appeal a case where the player was within his full rights as a citizen.
Williams' ignorance of the rules may have been supported by the league's negligence to properly implement a rule that is bathed in hypocrisy by the league. That alone is worth an appeal case at the very least.