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Sunday, January 27, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If Art Schlichter is in good enough shape to sit in front of a microphone when he is released from federal prison, he will likely be the star of radio row for Super Bowl LV in Tampa.

With legalized sports betting into its third Super Bowl by then, we should be in full gambling victim mode, with the bodies being guided from one table to another along radio row — the new marketplace for the devastating price of the game of football.


That’s what the Super Bowl’s annual week-long radio football festival has become — a parade of broken-down players, suffering either busted limbs or smashed brain cells, telling sad stories at an NFL-sponsored media event, either as a spokesman for some drug company, or as a representative of a nonprofit, or sometimes as a litigant in a lawsuit.

It’s a bizarre scene, really. I’ve pointed out in previous Super Bowl columns that it is like a tobacco industry convention featuring cancer patients.

It’s a development the NFL can’t be happy about.

But there is little the league can do unless the NFL wants to start censoring credentials for reporters, approving only those inclined to sing the praises of football. It may come to that. For now, the league is robust and healthy enough to maintain a level of arrogance that believes it can withstand anything — including, yes, watching former employees tell the world how football destroyed their lives.

To date, that destruction mostly has focused on the physical toll the game takes on players and their lives after football.

But this year, with the New England Patriots facing the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LII in Atlanta, is the start of a new era. This will be the first Super Bowl held since the Supreme Court approved expanded legalized sports betting. Where once Nevada was the only place to put down a legal wager on the game, this year there are seven more states. In the coming years, there will be more.

As the casinos and sportsbooks expand to serve more and more fans, look for more coverage during Super Bowl week of the damaged families and broken lives left in gambling’s wake. Those stories will take their place alongside the annual interviews and profiles of former players who can’t walk or remember their names.

After all, the Super Bowl is also known as the Super Bowl of sports gambling, the last chance of the football season for bettors to chase their losses and try to get right.

There have always been gambling casualties, those busted by casinos or bookies, legally and illegally. But there will be more now, and they will be more public. Estimates are the amount bet legally on Super Bowl LIII will be double the reported $158 million last year. Two years from now, the states where you will be able to bet on sports may triple.

And a generation that never heard of him may be ready to hear Art Schlichter’s story — either from him, if he is able to tell it, or from others.

It is the entire package — the cautionary tale of the one-time football star whose career was destroyed by gambling and who wound up as a career grifter, con man and convict, perhaps as a result of brain damage from numerous concussions playing football, from high school to the NFL.

Schlichter was the star Ohio State quarterback drafted by the Baltimore Colts with the fourth pick of the first round in 1982 whose gambling addiction cut short his NFL career and derailed his life off the field as well.

After years of a post-NFL freefall of crime, cons and jail sentences, Schlichter in 2011 got 10 years in federal prison for a variety of fraud convictions, plus positive drug tests for cocaine while awaiting sentencing.

He’s expected to be released in October 2020.

His public defender says the former football star is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, the result of numerous concussions over his playing career. Doctors supposedly believe he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

His legacy includes the wife he victimized, Mitzi, who divorced Schlichter and started a gambling addiction center in Indianapolis. I spoke with her before the 2001 Super Bowl, when Schlichter was in the news after his lawyer was accused of smuggling a cell phone into the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis to allow Schlichter to make bets.

Mitzi felt sorry for her ex-husband’s lawyer. “That’s what I mean when I say that when someone has a gambling problem, it can ruin the lives of people around them,” she said. “You never imagine it could get so big.”


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