An American Greed television episode about former Ohio State and NFL quarterback Art Schlichter first aired on television in July of 2017. Last week I caught a re-airing of it, and I watched the entire hour with a knot in my stomach.
Like dozens of other unsuspecting victims, I was almost caught in one of Schlichter’s dozens of money grabs, which over the years fed his insatiable appetite for gambling. That addiction cost Art his career, his family, and his freedom.
He currently sits in a federal prison, where he has spent the majority of the last 25 years. According to the American Greed profile, the 59-year-old currently suffers from Parkinson’s and dementia.
As most football fans are aware, Schlichter had one of the most stirring falls from grace of any prominent athlete of recent times. He could be lumped with O.J. Simpson and Lance Armstrong on a short list of highly admired jocks whose lives were ruined by demons of their own making.
After three years as an All-American at Ohio State, where he was considered a Heisman Trophy finalist each year, Schlichter was drafted as the fourth pick in the first round in 1982 by the Buffalo Bills. But even before his NFL career began, he had been seduced by gambling on horses. The racetrack was the one place he found where he could escape all the attention lavished on him.
He won a nice chunk of change on one of his first wagers, and as most gambling addiction specialists will tell you, that is the worst thing that can happen to those with the gambling bug in their DNA. The high from that first winning wager can hit with all the power of a first snort of crystal meth.
In three abbreviated seasons in the NFL, Schlichter’s sad stats reveal just three touchdown passes, and 11 interceptions.
I was introduced to Art in 1994 by a friend, the late esteemed addiction expert Dr. Rob Hunter. I heard Art give emotional testimony to a roomful of Las Vegas gamblers about his fall from grace, and how he was putting the pieces of his life back together. The very next evening after that speech, he was taken in handcuffs from the casino at Caesars Palace after forging a credit report to get more money to gamble.
Earlier that week, I had agreed to meet with Art about a book he wanted me to write about his sad journey, and how he was on the road to recovery. He was easy to talk to, charismatic and light-hearted, and he tried to convince me that his story was a sure bestseller. He then asked if I could get a sizable advance on the book, how much I thought it was worth, and how soon I could split the money with him.
Everything about his pitch to me centered around the money, and how quickly we could be paid. It was clear to me after our one-hour meeting that this was not a project I would be taking on.
Before I left, Art handed me a temporary business card with a phone number and address, and asked me to let him know if I found a publisher. I looked at the card in disbelief: the house he was renting was immediately across the street from mine.
It was just days later that Art was arrested. A few days after that, I saw his wife Mitzi pushing a baby stroller down the alley. I stopped and introduced myself to her and offered my condolences. She was crying.
I share Art Schilichter’s story as a cautionary tale. Those of us at Gaming Today obviously support sports gambling as a fun and healthy recreation that provides excitement and escape for millions of Americans and others around the world. But like any pastime that offers respite from the pressures of everyday life, like alcohol or the legal use of marijuana, gambling has to be engaged in with a measure of moderation and common sense.
When it controls the gambler, it can lead to the ruin of a potentially healthy and productive life. I can think of no sadder example of that than the All-American farm boy from Ohio.