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NFL launches responsible betting awareness campaign

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The NFL is putting its voice and money behind an initiative to build a safer sports betting ecosystem in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the NFL launched a responsible betting public awareness campaign that includes a $6.2 million, three-year partnership with the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). It’s the largest grant ever for the NCPG, and according to executive director Keith Whyte, nearly doubles the annual budget of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that was founded in 1972.

“The problem gambling field is about 20 years behind where we are with substance abuse, and this grant is going to help us catch up,” Whyte told ESPN. “It’s massive. It’s going to really help us help more people.”

The initiative will fund state and local problem gambling resources, modernize the national hotline, develop the website resonsibleplay.org and promote responsible play messaging across the league’s media platforms. Later this fall, responsible play television spots featuring retired coaches and players will begin airing.

“We feel it is critical that the NFL uses the power of our voice to educate and encourage fans who choose to gamble to do so in a safe and responsible way,” Christopher Halpin, NFL Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer, said in a release announcing the campaign. “We also recognize that responsible betting programs across the country are under-resourced, especially as legalization spreads nationwide.”

Three years after a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, legal sportsbooks are operating in 28 states and the District of Columbia, with the majority offering online betting. It’s one of the largest expansions of gambling in U.S. history and has prompted fears of a pending spike in problem gamblers.

According to the NCPG, an estimated two million adults in the U.S. meet the criteria for severe gambling problems, and studies have shown that sports betting, especially when conducted online, has a higher prevalence of problem gambling than gambling in general.

Whyte said anecdotally he has seen upticks in calls to problem gambling hotlines in recent years as legal sports betting has expanded. He plans to improve the quality of the hotline experience through certification training for workers and by upgrading technology that will lead to better data collection and earlier detection of issues.

The NFL funding enables the NCPG to launch a national grant program to enhance local and statewide problem gambling services and develop prevention programs, including for youth.

The NFL worked with the NCPG on a “plain and straight” tone for the messaging that will appear on league media platforms, as well as on broadcast and sportsbook partners’ content. Whyte believes the NFL’s voice will help de-stigmatize problem gamblers.

“Perhaps even bigger than the grant is the power of the NFL megaphone,” Whyte said.

Halpin, who is overseeing the NFL’s approach to sports betting in the U.S. and has had friends struggle with problem gambling, studied the mature betting markets in the United Kingdom and Australia and consulted with prominent leagues for best practices. After learning of the pitfalls those markets suffered-oversaturation of betting advertising and rises in problem gambling-Halpin felt that the NFL had a responsibility to help the growing legal market in the U.S. avoid similar mistakes.

The NFL has put frequency caps on sports betting advertisements during national broadcasts and now is launching the largest public message campaign that the problem gambling field has ever seen.

“Collectively, all of us in the sports and betting industries need to learn from international examples and make sure the development of education and support programs matches the state-by-state growth in legalized sports betting,” Halpin said.

Sportsbook operators Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel, who each have official partnerships with the NFL, will participate in the campaign that is centered on encouraging bettors to set and stick to affordable, use licensed, regulated operators and ask for help if needed.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity to get the word out to a broader audience and really normalize the dialogue,” Christine Thurmond, director of responsible gaming at DraftKings, said. “Not only operators, but leagues and advocacy groups are joining together to work in a way that collectively we can spur innovation and education in the [responsible gaming] space. I think it is a win-win.”

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Kansas City Chiefs fans, in nod to Bills Mafia, donate $255,017 to Buffalo children’s hospital

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Just days ago, the Kansas City Chiefs handed the Buffalo Bills one of the most heartbreaking losses in franchise history.

Chiefs fans, inspired by the fundraising spirit of Bills Mafia, have decided to turn their team’s big overtime win Sunday into a positive for the Buffalo community, raising $255,017 for Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo as of late Wednesday afternoon, per the hospital.

Beginning Tuesday, donations in increments of $13 began being sent to the hospital from Chiefs fans in honor of the 13 seconds it took for the Kansas City offense to drive down the field to tie the divisional-round playoff game at the end of regulation. The Chiefs went on to win 42-36 on the first drive of overtime.

The original idea from a Chiefs Kingdom Facebook group was to donate in $13 increments to quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘ charitable organization, the 15 and the Mahomies Foundation. That changed when Chiefs fans heard more about the Bills fans’ tradition of giving back to other teams; they instead direct their efforts to their opponent’s charity of choice.

The Oishei Children’s Hospital became closely connected with Bills quarterback Josh Allen after fans donated in $17 increments, totaling $1.1 million, in honor of Allen’s grandmother, Patricia Allen, who died last year. There is now a Patricia Allen Pediatric Recovery Wing in the hospital and the Patricia Allen Fund to benefit the critical care team and provide support for equipment, training, education and programs.

One of the most noteworthy examples of the Bills fans’ tradition came in 2017 when Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver Tyler Boyd connected for a game-winning touchdown over the Baltimore Ravens that led to the Bills clinching a playoff berth for the first time in 17 years.

In $17 increments, fans raised $442,000 for the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation. This year, Bills fans have led donation efforts in honor of cornerback Tre’Davious White tearing an ACL, giving back to the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana in his hometown, among others.

Last year, Bills fans donated to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s foundation after a playoff win over the Ravens.

While 13 seconds likely will never again have a positive association in Buffalo, fan bases turning a tough ending into a positive for a different community is an uplifting tradition.



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Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield taking break from ‘all social media for foreseeable future’

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CLEVELAND — As he recovers from shoulder surgery, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield plans to rest his thumbs as well.

Mayfield said he’s going to take a break from “all social media for the foreseeable future.”

Ironically, the polarizing QB went on his Instagram page Wednesday to announce his hiatus from tweeting and posting.

“Gotta do what’s best to focus on me, my family and loved ones,” Mayfield wrote. “Appreciate all the support. Time to get right.”

Mayfield concluded his message by also including a contact for anyone making business or marketing inquiries.

Mayfield recently concluded a dreadful, injury-filled fourth season with the Browns, who were among the NFL’s most disappointing teams. Cleveland went 8-9, missed the playoffs and dealt with drama, much of it involving Mayfield.

Late in the season, Mayfield went on Twitter to dispel a story about issues between him and coach Kevin Stefanski. He called the report “clickbait” and added that “many other Cleveland local media continue to be drama stirring reporters with no sources or facts.”

Mayfield’s wife, Emily, also used her Twitter platform to claim he received death threats. Mayfield downplayed those and described his attackers and critics on social media as “keyboard warriors.”

The 26-year-old Mayfield injured his left, non-throwing shoulder in Week 2 while trying to make a tackle and struggled all season. He recently underwent surgery in Los Angeles for a torn labrum and is expected to need more than four months to recover.

The team said he should begin light throwing in April.

Following the season, both Stefanski and Browns general manager Andrew Berry publicly supported Mayfield by saying they believe he will bounce back next season as their starter. However, it’s likely the team will at least explore other options at quarterback during this offseason.

Mayfield is under contract next season for $18.9 million after the team exercised his fifth-year option.

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Baltimore Ravens targeting Michigan Wolverines’ Mike Macdonald to be new DC

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The defensive coordinator who keyed Michigan‘s dramatic turnaround in 2021 is on the cusp of heading back to the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens have targeted Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, a former Ravens assistant, to be John Harbaugh’s next defensive coordinator, sources told ESPN.

A deal is expected to be finalized in the upcoming days, according to sources. Macdonald has been replaced on the road recruiting by a graduate assistant coach, Dylan Roney, in preparation for his departure.

The Detroit Free Press first reported that the Ravens were targeting Macdonald.

This comes after Macdonald stabilized a defense that keyed a one-year turnaround for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, as the Wolverines went from 2-4 in 2020 to the College Football Playoff and a 12-2 record this past season.

Michigan’s scoring defense under Macdonald improved from No. 95 in 2020 with 34.5 points per game to No. 8 with 17.4 ppg. Michigan went on to beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and win the Big Ten for the first time since 2004.

Macdonald’s hire at Michigan proved to be one of the most impactful in all of college football last season. His schemes helped eliminate Michigan’s propensity to give up big plays under former defensive coordinator Don Brown. Under Macdonald, the Wolverines yielded 100 yards less per game in 2021, an average of 330.8 after giving up 434.3 the prior season.

Macdonald also helped launch the Heisman candidacy of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who finished as a finalist for the award after finishing with 14 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Macdonald, 34, would become the youngest defensive coordinator in the Ravens’ 26-year history. Before leaving for Michigan last year, Macdonald spent seven years in Baltimore (2014-20), joining the Ravens in 2014 as an intern. He was Baltimore’s inside linebackers coach for three seasons (2018-20) and was considered the heir apparent for the Ravens defensive coordinator position before leaving for Michigan.

The Ravens fired Don “Wink” Martindale on Friday after the sides were unable to agree on a contract extension through 2023, a source said. Under Martindale, the Baltimore defense ranked in the top 10 in three of four seasons.

Macdonald would take over a Ravens defense that finished No. 25 in the NFL last season. That was Baltimore’s worst defensive ranking since it was 25th in 1997.

In 2018, Macdonald interviewed for the Ravens defensive coordinator position that eventually went to Martindale. Now, four years later, it appears Macdonald will get his chance to step into that role.

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