Players’ Claim of ‘Serious Consequences’ of Sports Betting Is A Hail Mary
“The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs. Our unions have been discussing the potential impact of legalized gambling on players’ privacy and publicity rights, the integrity of our games and the volatility on our businesses.”The unions are making an obvious emotional appeal. The above “consequences” position boils down to the claim that fantasy sports and bettors already “dehumanize” athletes on social media after games, per NFLPA president Eric Winston, and that expanded legal sports wagering will exacerbate that. Meanwhile, the widely accepted (and celebrated) reality is that fantasy sports and sports betting has helped explode the popularity of NFL games. There is empirical evidence on this front, and as a consequence, the engagement has helped generate incredible NFL TV contracts that increase every cycle (ditto for the other major U.S. pro leagues). Numerous players have embraced fantasy sports and encouraged fantasy players to draft them, while some appear on fantasy-focused shows. Former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Chargers tight end Antonio Gates guest starred on FX’s “The League.” Jones-Drew now co-hosts “NFL Fantasy Live.” And of course, the NFL provides its own platform for fantasy football and a plethora of fantasy sport content. If players truly have a problem with player privacy, data and their public perception, they should take it up with The Shield. On the legal front, the notion that “publicity rights” would prohibit certain wagers or data usage on has been litigated in federal court in a fantasy sports context. The case reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which found that information from sports contests is part of the public domain, and therefore that MLB team owners and the players’ union could not bar names and stats from being used commercially. In the sports betting context, unions will try to distinguish wagers such “proposition bets” — for example the number of receptions Antonio Brown would have in a certain game. It’s a losing argument that will provide as much leverage as a single palm against a sled stacked high with 45-pound plates. What about injury reporting and privacy? First of all, they were created for people wagering on sports. The league freely provides the information and if that’s now objectionable, unions can try to negotiate it away with the leagues. Nevada bettors, bettors in Europe and those wagering in other “offshore” jurisdictions where wagering is legal have been relying on this information for a long time. Why the sudden claims of privacy issues? The availability of such information is part of being a public figure and a professional athlete. Injury reports are crucial information for fantasy sports, sports wagering, and likewise people who don’t give a damn about either. Before season-ticketing-holding Joe Fan shows up at Heinz Field, he wants to know if Ben Roethlisberger is going to be suiting up. Players for a long time have accepted that certain health information, even the kind they probably would prefer keep private, is part of the deal. In the past, leagues have disclosed everything from weird injuries (it’s always MLB players, such as the Clint Barmes deer meat incident) to mental illnesses to quasi-health matters like domestic disputes. Players have long gotten booed off the field for bad performances because they’re just bad performances — not because they failed to go “over” on a reception total or otherwise doom a wager. Everyone is subject from criticism at work. Getting booed is part of the game.