Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley penned a letter to the football world this week, offering a mea culpa for his decision to gamble on football, which led to his year-long suspension from the NFL in 2021.
While Ridley took responsibility for his actions and expressed his heartfelt apologies, he also took the time to give us a glimpse at what led to this decision. Using his pulpit on The Players' Tribune, Ridley painted a grim picture of the expectations that lay heavy on football player's shoulders, and the physical, mental and emotional breakdown that those expectations can cause.
The former Atlanta Falcons All-Pro overcame immense poverty and separation from his parents to become a star at Alabama and in the NFL. Throughout his childhood spent in foster homes, Ridley always had football to keep him straight.
And then, he didn't have that anymore, and his life fell apart.
Ridley Was Physically Injured, and Emotionally Broken
Just a few sentences into his letter, Ridley openly admits that he was struggling with depression and anxiety in 2021, up to the point that he couldn't even find the energy to get off of his living room chair. He had played through the previous year with a foot injury, though during the season it was diagnosed as just a bone bruise. Having already played through bone spurs for two previous years, Ridley went his usual route of loading up on pain killers and gutting his way through the year.
After hobbling his way to a 4-12 season, he was sent to a specialist, who immediately diagnosed him with a broken foot.
Now there was a surgery and rehab to add to the pressures Ridley faced every day, not to mention that he was expected to be the Atlanta Falcons' No. 1 receiver with the trade of Julio Jones to the Titans. Between painkillers and parenting his two-year old daughter, Ridley was overwhelmed.
A Robbery On Top of It All
The downward spiral might have started with injuries and painkillers, but it became a fully blown tornado of anxiety on the first day of the 2021 NFL season.
After catching five passes for 51 yards in a 32-6 loss to Philadelphia, Ridley and his wife and daughter came home to find that his house had been robbed by "five or six guys with guns drawn." It traumatized him and his wife, and Ridley found it difficult to leave his family alone at home. He stayed home when the Falcons traveled to London to play the New York Jets, citing an undisclosed personal matter, and then announced he was stepping away from football due to mental health reasons.
In his letter, Ridley cautiously relates that while some people in the Falcons organization supported him, others had a much less concerned approach to his well-being.
Shining a Light on Mental Health Issues
Ridley's explanation for his crime is simple. In his isolation and depression, he downloaded a betting app on his phone and put some money on NBA games that night. Without thinking, he added a few other games to his parlay, including a Falcons game. He figured he was going to root for his teammates anyway, and he had no inside information or contact with anyone on the team.
I believe Calvin Ridley.
He was bored, alone, and trying to pass the time that, without football as his purpose, must have seemed interminable. Most importantly, he was depressed.
Depressed people don't have the energy to put together an elaborate scheme for betting on their team or their sport. They can barely get to the kitchen to make some food or out of bed to change their clothes.
Calvin Ridley was not cheating the system. He was barely clinging to sanity.
A Fresh Start
Ridley was traded from the Atlanta Falcons to the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 1, 2022, despite him being suspended for the entire season. On his first day eligible, Feb. 15, 2023, Ridley applied for reinstatement to the NFL, and he was officially reinstated on March 6, 364 days after his initial punishment was handed down.
The six-year veteran will suit up for the Jaguars this fall, adding another weapon for Trevor Lawrence to an upstart Jacksonville team that won the AFC South and knocked off the LA Chargers in the wild card round. According to his note, he is healthier than ever, mentally and physically. He promises the Jaguars 1,400 yards a season, and claims no ill-will towards the Falcons franchise that drafted him 26th overall in 2018.
#Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley opens up about the last year-plus, saying he battled anxiety and depression.
"I feel stronger than I?ve ever felt. With Trevor Lawrence? I?m giving Jacksonville 1,400 yards a season, period."
Full read is worth your time: https://t.co/3gy3lsvrjL
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) March 8, 2023
"Maybe I had to hit rock bottom so I could get healthy," said Ridley in his letter. "Thank God, with the help of my therapist, I was able to understand what was happening to me. I learned the names for the things that I was feeling -- stress, depression, anxiety -- and how to cope with those emotions."
Ridley needed to make amends for his transgression, and he has. More importantly, however, he has taken a grave error in decision making and used it to illustrate how he, and all of us, can be pushed to the edge - and can make it back.
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