It’s probably a losing argument to claim that the NFL is stepping out of line to embrace gambling in the year 2021, but Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy believes that to be the case.
“I really don’t like seeing this Adam,” Dungy said in a tweet Monday in response to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter on the NFL reaching gambling ad deals ahead of the upcoming season.
“When I came into the league,” the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts continued, “the NFL had a stance against gambling. Now it seems like we’ve accepted it. I realize it’s legal now but we’ve all seen the damage gambling can do to lives. I don’t think we should be promoting it.”
Dungy is obviously right with regards to the potential for gambling addiction, a brutal affliction impacting millions of people in the U.S. But most people are able to gamble on sports with some frequency without developing an addiction to it. States across the country earmark just pennies on the dollar from their respective tax hauls to help vulnerable people, but that wasn’t part of Dungy’s take here.
According to an NFL presser, FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet, WynnBET, Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel are the only sportsbooks eligible to advertise during games. “No sportsbooks outside of these seven operators will be permitted to purchase this select NFL advertising and media inventory,” the presser stated. The ads will feature some responsible gambling messaging.
In an apparent effort to start off cautiously, the NFL is limiting gambling ads to no more than six per game. “We were focused on how we can include sports betting ads in a thoughtful way with sports betting going national now, with over half the population having access to sports betting,” NFL Chief Strategy Officer Chris Halpin told Sports Business Journal this month. “How do we include it in a way to serve those fans and those partners while also not overwhelming the game broadcasts?”
What about alcohol ads?
Many people replying to Dungy’s tweet pointed out that the NFL already takes in major advertising revenue from the alcohol industry — primarily beer, a substance that has helped obliterate countless lives in the U.S. over generations. “I do feel the same way about alcohol and I’ve said that,” Dungy, an openly religious person, said in reply. “But that ship has sailed and this one is just leaving the dock.”
Many people inexplicably took Dungy’s comments to mean he was advocating for some sort of sports betting prohibition. To be fair to Dungy, he never made that argument. His position is simply that the NFL shouldn’t be involved with sports betting, even if it’s a state-sanctioned industry.
But can the NFL’s reputation possibly be damaged by sportsbook ads?
The NFL is already a cesspool in many regards, from its longstanding deception on athlete brain trauma to fervent nationalism and militarism on display every Sunday, to extremely petty and ugly rivalries between working-class fans in nearby cities, to a bewildering standard of expecting athletes to be both violent on the field and so-called role models off it, to blackballing a high-profile athlete for protesting killings of people of color, to public subsidies for stadiums of franchises owned by billionaires.
As one person remarked, football itself can be damaging, so criticizing betting on it and the league making advertising money off that activity is a meaningless tangent in the grand scheme of things.
oh man if you're worried about the damage of gambling just wait til you hear about the damage of playing football https://t.co/JzdAhapZXp
— Lucy Rohden (@lucysportsjokes) August 30, 2021
And, of course, the NFL has benefited greatly from gambling for many years, even when the activity was confined by law to the state of Nevada. Whether it was a friendly wager between friends or someone using a local bookie to make a bet, the NFL and gambling have always been intertwined. That doesn’t necessarily change the substance of Dungy’s take, which is that the NFL shouldn’t be allowing sportsbooks to be TV advertisers. However, it does add another layer of contradiction to his position.
The NFL has based their entire league around gambling for decades. https://t.co/NwoGubYV81
— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) August 30, 2021
Ultimately, Dungy’s comments are meaningless noise in the never-ending stream of hot takes in the Twitterverse. The NFL will continue to embrace gambling as more and more states legalize it and it becomes more socially acceptable. Probably the only thing that could change that would be a federal crackdown in the form of blanket regulation, which doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon.
Photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today