Echoes of Art Schlichter

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Toby Gerhart being drafted in the second round out of Stanford, with a very similar body type, destroys the theory that Hillis was drafted low because of his race. The NFL today is about the best meritocracy in sports. We don't call JaMarcus Russell a "Black bust"; he is "the biggest bust since Ryan Leaf." That is who he should be compared to: other highly rated college QBs who sucked. Akili Smith is not a "failed Black QB"; the is "the worst QB taken in the first round this side of the immortal Joey Harrington."

My homeboy Brendan Koerner won't like this, but whenever we talk about first round QB busts,I always wonder where Art Schlichter--drafted by the then Baltimore Colts--ranks:

Schlichter was picked fourth in the 1982 NFL Draft (in the same class that included Jim McMahon of Brigham Young University and Marcus Allen of the University of Southern California) by the Baltimore Colts (who moved to Indianapolis two years later). Expected to be the starter, he lost the job to Mike Pagel, but was expected to be the Colts' quarterback of the future. His gambling continued unabated; he blew his entire signing bonus by midseason.

He also bet on NFL games (though never on Colts games) and charted scores from out-of-town games on which he'd bet when he should have been charting plays. His gambling spiraled out of control during the 1982 NFL strike, when he lost $20,000 on a college football game. By the end of the strike, he had at least $700,000 in gambling debts.

In the winter of 1982 and the spring of 1983, Schlichter lost $389,000 betting on basketball games, and his bookies threatened to expose him if he didn't pay up (the NFL forbids its players from engaging in any kind of gambling activity, legal or otherwise). Schlichter went to the FBI, and his testimony helped get the bookies arrested on federal charges.


He also sought the help of the NFL because he feared the bookies would force him to throw games in return for not telling the Colts about his activities. The league suspended him indefinitely. Schlichter was the first NFL player to be suspended for gambling since Alex Karras and Paul Hornung were suspended in 1963 for betting on NFL games.

He was reinstated for the 1984 season, but later admitted that he'd gambled during his suspension (though not on football). He was released five games into the 1985 season in part because the Colts heard he was gambling again. He never played another meaningful down. 

He signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills in the spring of 1986. However, he appeared in only one preseason game, and was cut after Jim Kelly signed what was then the largest contract for an NFL quarterback. In January 1987, Schlichter was arrested in New York City for his involvement in a multimillion-dollar sports betting operation.

He pleaded guilty to illegal gambling in April, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle refused to permit him to sign with another team. He made another bid for reinstatement in 1988, but was turned down. That same year, he filed for bankruptcy to shield himself from creditors. In parts of three seasons, Schlichter played only 13 games, primarily in backup or "mop-up" roles. He threw 202 passes and completed 91 of them. He amassed a quarterback rating of only 42.6, and is considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.

I guess, not being drafted number one overall means he can't be the biggest. Also perhaps we give a waiver for illness. The dude was a gambling addict. Frankly, I'm glad he's alive.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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