In the past two NFL seasons, All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Ridley has only played in five games.
The former first-round pick was suspended for the entire 2022 season for violating the league’s gambling policy.
In an open letter posted to The Players Tribune on Wednesday, Ridley revealed some of the issues he faced since he decided to step away from the Falcons during the 2021 season. He also admitted that he made a mistake when he decided to place a series of bets on NFL games.
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“I f—ed up,” Ridley wrote. “I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. In 2021, I made the worst mistake of my life by gambling on football.”
“I paid the price, believe me. I’ve seen all the jokes. I’ve seen all the hate. And I can shoulder all of that, no problem. 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.”
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The Atlanta Falcons traded Ridley to the Jacksonville Jaguars in November in a complex deal that involved multiple draft picks. Ridley, who turned 28 in December, shared some of the setbacks he experienced growing up in the South Florida area and how football helped him find purpose.
“Since I was eight years old, I was on my own. It’s crazy but I know the exact date: October 31, 2002,” he wrote. “We were having our little Halloween party at school. Out of the blue, my aunt came and picked me and my three younger brothers up. The next thing I know, she’s dropping us off at some random place with a bunch of strangers. It was a foster home for kids in distress. But I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. No one would tell me anything. It was just, ‘Your mom and dad went away for a while. You need to stay here.'”
Ridley also revealed that he battled through much of the 2020 season with a broken foot. Despite the injury, he had the best season of his pro career, racking up 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games. After the season, he was named a second-team All-Pro.
The next year, star wide receiver Julio Jones was no longer on the Falcons and Ridley became the team’s No. 1 receiver. He got off to a slow start on the field throughout the first few games of the 2021 season. In the letter, he noted that his struggles with depression and anxiety resulted in him being a “shell” of himself.
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“That’s when the anxiety really started. I knew something was off, but I didn’t want to let anybody down. My plan was to get through another season with pills and shots. Do my job. Grit it out. I suited up Week 1 a shell of myself, but I played.”
During his time away from football, Ridley placed bets on NFL games, including a parlay on the Falcons that led to his indefinite suspension.
“I just f—ed up. Period,” he wrote. “In a dark moment, I made a stupid mistake. I wasn’t trying to cheat the game. 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.”
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But the former Alabama football standout said the time away from the game helped him reset, and he is looking forward to a fresh start in Jacksonville.
“Right now, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt – mentally and physically,” he wrote. “On the field, I’m flying. Believe me, I’m flying. That GPS band don’t lie. On my daughter’s name, if I’m healthy? With Trevor Lawrence? I’m giving Jacksonville 1,400 yards a season, period.”