It has been a bad week for Mitzi Schlichter. She and her two girls were home in Indianapolis with the flu Wednesday watching television when all the pain of the past came back again. Art Schlichter, the poster boy for compulsive gambling, was in the news and, of all times, just before the Super Bowl.
The story being teased for the local news talked about how the lawyer who represented Art Schlichter, a woman named Linda Wagoner, was being investigated by the Indiana Supreme Court's Disciplinary Commission after pleading guilty in December to smuggling a cell phone into the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis to allow Schlichter to place bets.
Mitzi Schlichter cringed as her daughters learned their father was leading the nightly news. "I try hard not to pay attention when Art's name comes up in the news or watch anything about it because I really don't want the girls to read about it or see it," she said. "I would prefer to discuss it with them myself."
But she can't always do that, because, like a bad penny, Art Schlichter keeps turning up. "The fact that this story has been so ongoing has been very difficult for me and my children," Mitzi said. "It never goes away."
He resurfaced at a coincidental time, just before the Baltimore Ravens play the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. After all, Art Schlichter was once the future of pro football in Baltimore. He was a star quarterback from Ohio State and the No. 1 draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1982.
He did turn out to be the future of pro football in Baltimore. Both he and it went in the toilet - the Colts during their cowardly midnight departure in 1984 and Schlichter when he was suspended by the NFL in 1983 after it was learned bookies had threatened him over $150,000 in gambling debts. Soon he was out of the NFL.
Now pro football is back in Baltimore, but Art Schlichter is still in the toilet, and he nearly took his family down with him. He is still claiming victims.
Mitzi survived, turning her worst nightmare into her calling. She is the co-founder of Trimeridian, an inpatient gambling treatment center in Indianapolis, and she didn't need for her ex-husband's story to come up now. She has enough to do. The Super Bowl is the center's busiest time of the year.
"We get more patients and the help line gets more calls at this time of year," she said. "If a gambler has a problem, their bets get progressively bigger, and if they are a sports bettor and they bet on football, this will be their last opportunity to make a big comeback. Even if they have been winning, this is usually a big wager. If they are winning, they don't see that they have a problem. But for those who don't win, it could be a turning point for them."
There has never been a turning point for Art Schlichter, although Mitzi tried to help him find one, even after he declared bankruptcy because of gambling debts in 1988. She married him the following year, and in 1990 moved to, of all places, Las Vegas, to seek help for his addiction.
"I remember being pregnant with my first daughter, talking on the phone to the doctor, and saying I can't imagine moving to Vegas for help for this," she said. "They said, `Here is your problem. He can gamble anywhere. If there was another option for treatment that didn't involve coming to Las Vegas, we would recommend it.' We couldn't find anywhere in the country that had what we needed, and at that point he needed inpatient [care]. So we moved to Las Vegas. It obviously wasn't the turning point for him. I wish it would have been."
Art Schlichter continued gambling, but Mitzi kept trying to pull him out of it until 1994, when Schlichter was arrested on charges of theft, forgery and fraud in connection with the theft of $800,000 to support his habit. Mitzi separated from him and moved in with her parents. "But I didn't divorce him," she said. "I was really hopeful that experience would lead to his recovery."
Art Schlichter was released in September 1996 after serving less than half his four-year sentence. Three weeks later he was gambling again, and Mitzi divorced him. A year later, he was sent back to prison after being caught betting while in a court-ordered treatment program. He was released in September 1999, only to wind up back in jail in February 2000 on charges of credit card fraud and money laundering, all connected to his determination to do anything to bet. Two weeks ago, Art Schlichter pleaded guilty to those charges, and now the latest person he dragged down with him - his lawyer - has joined the list of casualties.
Mitzi felt sorry for the woman. "That's what I mean when I say that when someone has a gambling problem, it can ruin the lives of people around them," she said. "You never imagine it could get so big. And with Art, it keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Tomorrow, as a result of the biggest game in football, some lives will be ruined, and some people will ask for help. Mitzi Schlichter, who was never able to help the person she loved, will be there to help them