Sportsmen vs. Sports Betting

There are many people out there who have all the money you can imagine one day, and then find themselves in boat loads of debt the next. Professional sportsmen are often among this group, and for a whole host of reasons tend to get caught up in the world of sports betting quite easily. But the question begs why heroes to young children get so easily sucked into a world that most of us can only fathom as a nightmare?

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Perhaps it would be interesting to look at where the epidemic is bubbling over at its worst. Australian Football League is basically what NFL is to Americans, but in Australia. The players are huge stars in their country, earning decent wages and profiting of sponsorship deals. However, it has become the league’s worst kept secret in recent years that a large majority of players are hooked on gambling, with sports betting their preferred choice. Gambling has been described as “the hidden problem in footy” by player manager Paul Connors, which illustrates the reserved nature among the League players in Australia.

Sports book tote board
Sports book tote board



On the contrary, the US is more than open about such issues. Floyd Mayweather Jr. enjoys flaunting his monumental betting slips on Twitter, which included a $100 000.00 wager on American college Duke to win the first half of a basketball match against Arizona. Retired NBA great and current basketball analyst Charles Barkley told ESPN in 2007 that he had won $700 000.00 in one weekend betting on the Super Bowl and playing blackjack. A year later Barkley faced criminal charges over un-paid debt to the Wynn Casino for $400 000.00. The NBA great has since stated that he continues to gamble because he can afford it. In 2009 Sports Illustrated released a statistic that 78% of NFL players have gone bankrupt within 2 years of retirement. The numbers are strikingly similar for NBA players. Although much of this percentage is caused by bad investments and overspending, a large portion of it is believed to have occurred through sports betting.



People who make it in professional sports often hail from modest surroundings, with very few actually having come from money. They therefore have never really had any experience in handling money, or been around people to offer good advice in this regard. A first time paycheck for any sportsman provides a feeling of power, but the inherent responsibility on making the money last is usually lacking. This is apparently the case with the AFL and gambling. America has been open and combatting this issue in the NFL, NBA and MLB for years now and it seems to be encouraging other countries to do the same. David Schwarz, a former AFL player and gambling addict in remission claims to have held talks with near thirty players dealing with gambling issues. “It’s an escalating problem. It’s bordering on being an epidemic,’’ says Schwarz.

Indeed, perhaps the growth of gambling world-wide could be looked at as an issue. “Such is the growth of online gambling in Australia and England that losing the US as a market was a quickly forgotten memory,” says’s spokesperson Shakia Wilson. So while the world as a whole is going into overdrive at the poker tables and greyhound tracks, why is it remaining a topic that people seem reluctant to discuss outside the US, particularly among professional sportsmen?



But why professional sportsmen? An adrenaline rush is something that we very rarely forget, as those who have played sports before will confirm. Part of the joy of playing sports for a living is the constant adrenaline that is felt. The average Formula 1 driver will experience more adrenaline in a year than most people do in a lifetime. To maintain the natural high many sportsmen turn to the thrill of winning and losing money, which, at the time, they feel they have an endless supply of. Sportsman are also by nature competitive, and cannot help wagering against each other in their spare time. This competitiveness transpires into the locker room. If one player sees his teammate seal a huge win via a bet, more often than not, he will try to up the ante with a larger bet in the hope for a larger win.

The problem these sportsmen face is understanding that they need to make their overall income from playing sports last longer than their careers. Large salaries combined with a thrill seeking and competitive natures produce just the recipe for a gambling addiction. Sportsmen also have more spare time than most, and seek activities to keep them occupied while not playing or practising.

“The mindset is, they believe they are going to earn big money, so if they lose $100,000 in a year it’s not a big deal,” explained David Schwarz. Of course when you look at statistics it definitely is a big deal.

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