Calvin Ridley stepped away from the Falcons and football in the fall of 2021 to take care of his mental health, and a million theories about the why rushed in. People wanted to know what he was dealing with, and that desire for information directly from Ridley himself only increased when we learned he had been suspended for betting on NFL games. The team stayed mum out of respect for Ridley, and aside from an occasional tweet, we heard little from Ridley.
Ridley was ultimately suspended for the entire 2022 season, and all we really heard between that suspension and the end of February was that his home was broken into and that the Falcons had traded him to the Jaguars. Now Ridley has been reinstated by the league, and not a soul could have blamed him if he had simply never talked about the last year-and-a-half of his life, given the obvious weight of what he was going through. In his shoes, I know I would not have been keen to share the ordeal, especially knowing that he has had sharp and relentless critics since the day he announced he was stepping away.
But Ridley did give us the why. A man who likely logged into Twitter dozens of times over that span and scrolled through both support and withering remarks wrote an article in The Player’s Tribune that was published yesterday, and it gives us a fuller picture of what Ridley went through in his final year with the Falcons. You should read the entire thing, but suffice to say that Ridley played much of the 2020 season on a badly injured foot that he only learned was broken in 2021 under the new regime, tried to gut it out with painkillers and was a “shell of himself” to start the 2021 season, came home from Week 1 to find his home had been robbed, and dealt with crippling anxiety before placing the bets that saw him suspended.
An injury that impacts you the way that foot clearly messed with Ridley, who said he was heavily reliant on painkillers to play, would be enough to shake any professional athlete. In recent years, we’ve heard from more and more of them about the very real toll that those injuries take as your body betrays you and both the physical and mental cost of rehabilitation adds up. But the combination of everything ultimately hit Ridley very hard, with anxiety taking over his life as he tried to be a husband, a father, and the top receiver for an NFL offense while dealing with that broken foot.
He also details when he decided he had to take a break from the game he loves:
“I would come into the facility and I just wasn’t myself. I mean, for three years, all those guys in that locker room know how I’m coming. I’m walking in there to compete like hell. I’m trying to take people’s souls, every day. Ask Julio. Ask anybody. But all I wanted was to be at home with my wife and daughter. We were supposed to go play in London, and I just couldn’t leave them. That’s when I finally broke down and told the team that I needed help.”
Ridley takes pains in the article not to condemn the Falcons for misdiagnosing his injury in 2020—again, I’m not sure I’d be so forgiving—and doesn’t have unkind words for those in the building who didn’t support him when he was struggling and ultimately stepped away in 2021, though he makes it clear that it wasn’t everyone. As he wrote:
“But also I want to make it clear that I don’t have a bad word to say about the Falcons or the city of Atlanta. That’s still my second home, and where my daughter was born. I tried to give y’all everything I had, until the wheels came off. It’s all love, forever.”
But by the time he had been away from the team for a while, he was isolated and depressed, and that’s when he made the fateful bets that saw him suspended from the NFL for an entire season. He writes:
“I just f***ed up. Period. 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.”
Ridley calls the day NFL investigators reached out to him the worst of his life as the magnitude of the mistake hit him and his mother read what people were saying about him, which in the immediate aftermath of the news was pretty vicious. He writes that it took therapy, time, and work, as you’d expect, to rebound from that epoch of his life. When the Falcons traded him to Jacksonville for a package of conditional draft picks—Atlanta’s getting a fifth rounder this year, and could get a second rounder in 2024—Ridley also received a chance at a fresh start.
It takes grace and strength to write about your suffering, particularly when you’re a public figure who will endure criticism no matter what you share, and also when you feel compelled to admit the magnitude of a mistake. It was easy to be a fan of Calvin Ridley when he was reeling in touchdowns and embarrassing defensive backs as a Falcon, no matter how it may have ended, and it’s easy now that he’s a Jaguar and we understand what he’s been through over the past couple of years. We wish him success in Jacksonville, but more than that, a fulfilling life with all of this behind him.