‘I paid the price’: Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley writes about break from NFL, details struggles with depression

FILE - Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. The NFL reinstated suspended receiver Calvin Ridley on Monday, March 6, 2023, clearing the way for him to join his new team in Jacksonville. The league said Ridley, who had been suspended indefinitely since March 2022 for violating the NFLs gambling policy, is eligible to participate in all team activities beginning immediately. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File) (Adam Hunger, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a powerful essay on The Players Tribune, new Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley opened up on his struggles with depression and anxiety and what caused him to physically and mentally break down before his season-long suspension while playing with the Atlanta Falcons.

Ridley, whom the Jaguars traded for at the deadline last year, didn’t waste time on what led to his yearlong break from the NFL, took full blame for his gambling suspension. He said it was an innocent mistake during one of the darkest times of his life. And Ridley vowed that he’s more focused, driven and determined than he’s ever been.

“I f***ed up. I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. In 2021, I made the worst mistake of my life by gambling on football.,” Ridley wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “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.”

Ridley detailed what led to his suspension for gambling. He said he saw a television commercial for betting, downloaded the app and put $1,500 into his account. At that time, Ridley had left the team to work on his mental health. He said he planned on betting on NBA games, but then added the Falcons to a parlay bet.

“I was just doing it to root on my boys, basically. I didn’t have any inside information,” Ridley wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “I wasn’t even talking to anybody on the team at the time. I was totally off the grid. … When you’re depressed, you’re not thinking about anything in the future. You’re just trying to get through the day.”

The NFL investigation followed and Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022 season. That time away gave Ridley time to work on his mental struggles and heal a broken body, notably his foot. Ridley said he played 2020 with a broken foot and tried to push through with pills and pain injections at the start of 2021.

That pain, compounded by his house getting robbed by five or six guys who entered “with guns drawn,” were the breaking point. Ridley, his wife and daughter weren’t home at the time, but video footage showed what played out. He said that situation was the final domino on his world closing in around him. The family was petrified that something like that could happen.

“That’s when I really just started to feel the weight of the world on my chest. I didn’t have the words for what I was experiencing yet. It felt like I was getting attacked — but almost by something invisible,” Ridley wrote. “It’s like I’m getting hit in my chest, 24/7, by somebody I can’t see.”

Ridley said that during his break from the game, he worked extensively with a therapist and enters this next phase with things in his life in check. That’s great news for the Jaguars, who welcomed Ridley to town on Wednesday and showed him around TIAA Bank Field and his new locker.

“Right now, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt — mentally and physically,” he said in the story. “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.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.