February 09, 2011
It looks like former Ottawa Rough Riders quarterback Art Schlichter (pictured at right in 1985 with the Indianapolis Colts) is in trouble with the law again, reportedly for his role in an alleged million-dollar sports ticketing fraud scheme. Of course, Schlichter's issues started long before his CFL career began in 1988; he reportedly acquired a compulsive gambling addiction in high school, and it carried on through his time starring at Ohio State and his NFL stints in Baltimore and Buffalo before he went north of the border in 1988. Schlichter didn't even last the full 1988 season with Ottawa, thanks at least partly to his off-field issues, but he did go on to three largely successful seasons in arena football before retiring in 1992.
Schlichter's addiction reportedly led him to commit close to 20 felonies (by his own estimate), including fraud and forgery. Many of those were related to ticket scams, including a 2000 one that saw him bilk former Ohio State buddies for Final Four tickets. This 2006 piece on him has some pretty revealing information about the depths of the addiction he struggled with:
Art Schlichter's racetrack of choice was Scioto Downs, a harness track not far from Ohio State. He started going in high school with Bill Hanners, one of his best friends, and his star receiver at Miami Trace High. Hanners' family trained horses and Art's parents bought a half-interest in a horse named Phantom Bret. Schlichter was often seen at the track with Earle Bruce, his Ohio State coach and the man who replaced Woody Hayes. All the messages Schlichter got were that this was okay. For somebody else it might've been.
Alcohol and drugs were never an issue with Schlichter: It was the rush of risk-taking with money that took Schlichter away from his feelings of isolation and guilt. He liked being on the edge. He had a black Mercury Cougar in high school, and he'd drive home on Friday afternoons like a Richard Petty wannabe. "He'd take a curve on a gravel road at 60 when we should've been going 30," Hanners says. "I'm not going to say he thought he was invincible, but there was always that edge." ...
"This addiction has taken everything I've ever loved or owned in my life," Schlichter says from his prison quarters in Medaryville. "I don't have anybody to blame but myself."
The addiction also significantly damaged Schlichter's career. A fourth-overall pick in the 1982 NFL draft, he never lived up to his potential, but a large part of that was thanks to his gambling addiction; his signing bonus was gone by midseason, and he spent much of his time studying gambling instead of preparing to play football. In 1983, he wound up $389,000 in debt to several bookies and turned to the FBI, helping to put them behind bars, but was suspended by the NFL for gambling shortly thereafter. His eventual release from Indianapolis in 1985 was reportedly due to gambling again, and the problem never really went away.
There had been plenty of pieces over the last few years suggesting that Schlichter was on the road to recovery, so it's definitely unfortunate to see him in serious trouble again. His case might be a useful reminder, though. For all the great and inspiring stories of former CFL players out there, there are also plenty who have wound up in significant trouble, including Trevis Smith, Josh Boden and Adam Braidwood. Athletes are just like any other group of people; some are admirable and some are more reprehensible. Driven by his addiction, Schlichter used his celebrity status to take advantage of a lot of people; it's worth remembering that just because someone has the skills to play professional football, they aren't necessarily someone to look up to or emulate.