Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seeing Art Schlichter Again

A few weeks ago, I had a client arraigned on the third floor of 375 South High Street and much to my surprise, who did I see among the prisoners but Art Schlichter. We didn’t speak, but I’m sure he doesn’t remember me from over thirty years ago.

For people not familiar with Columbus or the history of Ohio State football, thirty years ago Art Schlichter was a very big man on campus (I’ve written about him here (insert hyperlink)). He was starting quarterback for four years and was repeatedly a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Thirty years ago, if you’d asked me to make a prediction I’d have guessed Art was destined to rewrite the NFL’s record book. Instead, he’s spent the last third of a century establishing himself as perhaps America’s most notorious compulsive gambler. My insurance agent was Art’s roommate at OSU, and he’s told me there were signals even then that Columbus’ media darling had a major problem. I gamble occasionally, and it gives me a bit of a rush. Apparently, for Art Schlichter that rush is as powerful and irresistible as a shot of cocaine.

In 1982, the Colts made Art their first round draft pick. He turned out to be a terrible bust. Apparently he was so obsessed with gambling that he couldn’t concentrate on football. I understand he made almost $1 million on his contract and signing bonus. Less than halfway through the season, he had blown all that and was almost $1 million in debt. When his creditors started threatening him, he turned himself in and set up his ex-bookies for an FBI sting. The NFL suspended him for a year, and both Buckeye and Baltimore fans were hopeful he’d straighten out. No such luck.

Over the next 25 years, Art went to rehab 4 times and prison six times. I must admit Art Schlichter has some real gifts as a con man. During his first stretch in prison, he befriended a fellow prisoner, a doctor. When both were released, the doctor told investors he’d found a sure cure for compulsive gambling and needed capital for a chain of treatment centers. Art agreed to be his accomplice by testifying, “The good doctor has cured me, so help him save the world.” Of course, Art gambled away his share of the scam money and got sent back to prison.

I once spoke with Schlichter’s federal defender, who told me that Art is extremely convincing. She should know: Art convinced her to bring him a cell phone in prison. He’d tearfully claimed he wanted to speak with his children when in fact he wanted to talk with his bookies. When she was found bringing in a second phone, she lost her job. In 2007, when I heard Art had been granted parole, I wondered what the over-under was on him going back. After a year, I was surprised he hadn’t returned to jail, after two, I was amazed, and after four, I’d begun to hope he’d finally straightened out. Silly me. It has now come to light that he managed to win the confidence of a wealthy widow and convinced her to help him make amends to some people he’d wronged—translation: the local bookies. He managed to take her for something close to a mil.

I remember a conversation I once had with Anne Hayes, Woody’s widow, where I asked her if she thought Art would ever get his life on track. She shook her head and said Art has had so many chances. I can understand a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, maybe 4th chance, but Art Schlichter is going to jail for the 7th time, and if it were up to me, it would be for life.

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