It could be easily argued that no professional sports venture has ever benefitted more from gambling than the NFL. The league absolutely dominates the sporting landscape in the United States and, while much of that interest can be tied to simply enjoyment of football, the rise of fantasy football (which some perceive as gambling) and direct wagering on professional football have absolutely helped the NFL to grow by leaps and bounds.
However, the league publicly does not acknowledge this seemingly obvious correlation, to the point that they actually employ direct policy that goes against it. The most prominent recent example was Tony Romo’s now infamous fantasy football event being cancelled in Las Vegas and, this time around, NFL players are directly linked to an event that has come under fire from the league. Hilariously, the event is the inaugural Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship and USA Today brings word that the league isn’t pleased with a number of players taking part.
The event was reportedly filmed over the weekend at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip and it included appearances from Marshawn Lynch, James Harrison, NaVorro Bowman, Marquette Kings and Kenny Stills, among others. When this came to light, NFL executive VP for communications and public affairs Joe Lockhart put forth a swift and direct statement.
“Had we been asked in advance if this was acceptable, we would have indicated that it was in direct violation of the gambling policy. No one sought pre-approval.”
The report indicates that Joe Brickman of Encinal Entertainment actually tried to arrange some sort of partnership with the NFL for the event but that apparently did not come to fruition. With that said, players are not allowed under NFL policy to promote anything on casino property and that appears to be the hiccup in this case. At this point, it is not known what the NFL plans to do given that the event already took place but the arm wrestling bonanza isn’t set to hit the airwaves until May 27.
Between now and then, it seems possible that the NFL could try to squash the televised nature of the event entirely, especially because it will reportedly air on an NFL partner in CBS. Still, the players involved will almost certainly face some sort of potential penalty and this kerfuffle could produce a face-to-face clash between Roger Goodell and the NFLPA.
That type of interaction, of course, wouldn’t be the first in a long line of battles between the two parties but when “gambling” and the NFL are involved in the same story, the fall-out always seems to be quite interesting. It will be especially interesting to see how the NFL handles this considering it could set precedent as the league moves to Las Vegas in two years with the Raiders taking up a new home in Sin City and players will undoubtedly be bombarded with event opportunities at casinos.
Update: The NFL will reportedly fine all of the active players that were involved in the event, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
It’s unclear what the fine will be, but the NFL is going to maintain its somewhat absurd stance that any connection between a player and a casino brings into question the integrity of the league.