JACKSONVILLE (BVM) – Calvin Ridley wants the football world to know that he messed up and he isn’t sugarcoating it.
“In 2021, I made the worst mistake of my life by gambling on football,” Ridley said in “A Letter to the Game” on the Players’ Tribune. “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 was indefinitely suspended by the NFL in March 2022 for violating the league’s gambling policy. An investigation found that the former first-round draft pick (2018) bet on NFL games over a five-day stretch in November 2021 while he was away from the Atlanta Falcons, but Ridley explained that there was a lot that led up to that mistake.
“It started with my body breaking down,” Ridley said in the letter. “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 admitted that he played through bone spurs his first two years in the NFL, but the 2020 season – his best season as a pro when he caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns as a second-team All-Pro – was when “the wheels came off.”
By Week 8 of the 2020 season, Ridley was convinced his foot was broken because of the pain level but after an MRI, a team trainer diagnosed him with a bone bruise. Ridley continued to play with Toradol shots every Sunday and after the Falcons’ season ended at 4-12, a specialist in Green Bay confirmed within an hour of meeting what the former Alabama star already knew: his foot was broken.
“I was devastated,” Ridley said in the letter. “It was only two months before the start of the season, and now you’re telling me it’s broken? You gotta remember — I was the No. 1 guy now with Julio (Jones) gone. I was under so much pressure to be out there. I got the surgery and rushed back, but I showed up to camp just mentally drained. I still couldn’t plant without painkillers. So you get trapped in this cycle where it’s like, ‘If you take this pill, you can run.’”
Ridley said he didn’t want to let anyone down and suited up for Week 1 of the 2021 season “a shell of myself” with the plan to make it another year with the help of pills and shots. Soon after, Ridley’s anxiety was taken to another level.
Ridley’s family home was robbed during a game and both he and his wife were originally “pretty calm.” That was until the couple watched the security footage and “saw about five or six guys come in with guns drawn.”
“If you have a child, that’s your worst nightmare,” Ridley said in the letter. “My wife was traumatized. She couldn’t sleep at night. She couldn’t stand me being out of the house.
“That’s when I really just started to feel the weight of the world on my chest. I didn’t have the words for what I was experiencing yet. It felt like I was getting attacked — but almost by something invisible. It’s like I’m getting hit in my chest, 24/7, by somebody I can’t see.”
At this point, Ridley said all he wanted “was to be at home with my wife and daughter” so with the Falcons slated to play in London, he couldn’t leave his family and told the team he needed to step away. Ridley last played in an NFL game on Oct. 24, 2021 and said he began talking to a therapist almost immediately after.
This brought back painful memories of Ridley’s childhood like police kicking his family’s door down and running in with dogs because his parents “lived that fast life.” It caught up to them as Ridley’s father was deported back to Guyana while his mother was separated from her children who were taken to a foster home.
“That’s the hardest part about this last year, honestly,” Ridley said in the letter. “People have questioned my toughness and my character. But I don’t think most of those people could’ve lived the life I lived and even made it off the porch, let alone made it to the NFL.”
But it was football, Ridley said, that always brought him happiness and “gave me everything.”
His first plane ride was to Tuscaloosa on a recruiting trip to Alabama. His first “big Christmas” was during his freshman year of college when he took his stipend money ($1,000) home to one of his little brothers “and it was like he won the lottery.”
It was at Alabama where Ridley morphed into a star, helping the Crimson Tide win two national championships (2015, 2017) as a first-team All-SEC wide receiver. He appeared to be well on his way to NFL stardom and was even ranked 65th by his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2021 list.
That was until a dark period of Ridley’s life which resulted in “a stupid mistake,” one that he took time to clarify.
“I wasn’t trying to cheat the game,” Ridley said in the letter. “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. 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. 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.”
Currently, Ridley said he feels stronger than he’s ever felt – both mentally and physically – and is thankful for the Jacksonville Jaguars for showing faith in him after they traded for him on Nov. 1, 2022. The NFL fully reinstated Ridley from his suspension on Monday and the Florida native is ready to get back to work in his home state.
“On my daughter’s name, if I’m healthy? With Trevor Lawrence? I’m giving Jacksonville 1,400 yards a season, period,” Ridley said in the letter. “It feels so good to be back home in Florida, where this dream started, with a clean slate. Football saved my life. It’s still my purpose. I still love it, maybe now more than ever.”
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) March 6, 2023