Junior Seau Is Dead, Cont.


Art Schlichter, who started four years at quarterback for Ohio State, was picked fourth overall in the 1982 draft. He has long been considered one of the greatest busts in NFL history. Schlichter wasn't a bust in the Tim Couch\Andre Ware tradition of "just can't get it done on the field" but in the Ryan Leaf tradition of "just can't get it done off or on the field."  Schlichter was a compulsive gambler. Here's a specimen of where that illness took him:

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 did not 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).

It just went downhill from there. cocaine, scamming friends, losses accruing in the millions, until  yesterday when a 52-year old Schlichter was sentenced to ten years in prison. As part of his sentencing it was discovered that compulsive gambling wasn't the only illness he was suffering from:

A court-ordered mental examination of Schlichter, 52, found damage to the frontal lobes of his brain, a likely result of some 15 concussions he suffered during a stellar career at Ohio State University and in high school, said his attorney, Steven Nolder. 

"The brain deficits he suffered are commonly linked to depression, impulsivity, flawed judgment and repetitive behavior," Nolder said in a telephone interview. 

U.S. District Judge Michael Watson in Columbus, Ohio, agreed to Schlichter's request that, should he die in prison, the Bureau of Prisons would send his brain and spinal cord to Boston University's high-profile center that conducts research on the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma.

I am not a neurologist. I don't know whether brain damage comes before compulsive gambling. I also don't know whether Schlicter somehow suffered that damage after football. But there is too much I do know--about Ray Easterling, about Dave Duerson. I don't even like asking the question. I think about all the times I laughed at Schlichter's name when debating greatest busts in NFL history and I'm repulsed. 

A few years ago I would have told you Junior Seau was everything Art Schlichter was not. Now, I'm not even sure what that means. It holds no value for me anymore. Giving that compulsive gambling is, itself, a sickness maybe it never should have.
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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.

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