Schlichter continues to find trouble

The sad thing isn't that Art Schlichter wasted his football career, it's that he wasted his life.

Updated: July 20, 2004, 12:51 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

It isn't quite the equivalent of Groundhog Day but, when it comes to the life and self-inflicted hard times of Art Schlichter, things have taken on a certain redundancy.

Like death, taxes, another Kevin Brown stint on the disabled list and the seemingly daily appearance of Stephen A. Smith on your television, the next Schlichter misadventure is pretty much a certainty. And like the motorists who tap the brakes when they approach what looks to be a horrific automobile accident, and slow to a crawl so they can better survey the human and metal carnage, those of us who have documented in print the free-fall of the former Colts quarterback are rubbernecking once again.

Art Schlicter
Art Schlichter is escorted from the Federal Court building in Las Vegas in 1994 after pleading guilty to bank fraud.
We are, when it comes to Schlichter, as morbidly curious as the vehicular busy-bodies.

So there was Schlichter again last week, right on cue after an absence of a couple years, back in the public consciousness because, hey, he was back in one of his clearly preferred venues, a court room. You can't exactly set your watch by Schlichter but those who have born witness to his never-ending travails know that, if we ever fall into a Rip Van Winkle coma for a few years, Art will still be in the headlines when we awaken from our snooze.

The Artful Dodger, one of the nicknames that Schlichter most fancied, hardly applies in his case. Certainly he hasn't eluded the long reach of the law. In fact, about the only thing from which Schlichter has successfully bobbed and weaved is accepting responsibility for turning his life into a train wreck.

Bless his heart, though, because the guy definitely keeps up his half of the cottage industry he's created, one in which he screws up and then we columnists familiar with his tawdry tale scramble down to the basement to unearth from the file cabinet the manila folder with his name scribbled on the outside.

Problem is, though, we're going to need a bigger folder pretty soon. As for Schlichter, well, it looks as if he has already begun to expand his litany of criminal activity. Last Friday, a judge in Marion (Ind.) County sentenced Schlichter to a concurrent eight-year prison sentence and ordered him to make restitution totaling $500,000 to the na´ve folks that he bilked in a ticket scam.

It represented a new nadir for the former first-round draft choice who, in the past, has mostly limited his criminal involvement to those with whom he shared a bloodline, a surname, or a perch on the shaky limbs of his family tree. Funny thing but, for a guy who completed just 45 percent of his passes during a truncated NFL career, Schlichter has demonstrated Montana-like marksmanship when taking dead aim at his feet.

Little wonder his onetime strut has turned into a slight limp.

But here's the difference: A limp typically stirs sympathy. Even if he crawls into his next courtroom on all fours, however, Schlichter is now beyond compassion. He is pathetic minus the true pathos, sad without the sorrow, unfortunate sans the unforgettable nature of other folks who are down on their luck. He can display, in words and manner, his self-loathing. But mostly what Art Schlichter continues to be, and has been for a long time now, is self-destructive.

Having followed Schlichter's tale since the mid-'80s, after his football career had ended in a stack of gambling debts, we've heard too many rehearsed acts of contrition. All that is left now, for most who have even a flimsy connection to Schlichter, is contempt.

A lot of people, including some journalists, would turn the last two decades into a parable about how Schlichter squandered his talents. If that serves some purpose, fine, but he was never, even in his halcyon days as the golden boy of Ohio State football, as good as his newspaper clippings. When it came to Schlichter, someone violated truth in advertising laws, even when the subject was his physical ability.

Newcomers to the Schlichter drama are characteristically stunned when they learn that his career consisted of just 13 regular-season appearances, that he barely reached 1,000 yards passing, and threw only three touchdown passes. There is no absence of irony in the fact that, as his personal problems mounted, so, it seemed did his football legend grow. But the numbers don't lie and the numbers say that, as a first-round pick in the 1982 draft, he was the consummate bust.

And probably would have been even had his career not gone bust.

Truth be told, defensive lineman Darrell Russell, another onetime first-round choice who also reminded us last week that the recidivist gene runs deep, was by far the more talented of the two. From a skills standpoint, his plummet was far deeper, since Russell possessed legitimate Pro Bowl ability.

The point with Schlichter is that no one need mourn the incredibly frivolous manner in which he frittered away a dream. By far, the more significant waste was his life, because Schlichter, a loveable rogue with a very quick wit and notable gift for gab, still could have salvaged something from the wreckage of his football career. The basic flaw, though, was that, as is the case with most gambling addicts, Art Schlichter spent 20 years following his NFL banishment seeking out the quick fix instead of the total makeover.

Schlichter was, even after his gambling addiction was made so public, a pro of con. And he never abandoned his love for betting action, an addiction that began when he started playing the ponies during his Ohio State career, and mushroomed into NFL point spreads.

His hustle was non-stop and even people who should have known better were persuaded to contribute, sometimes unwittingly, to his malady. On one occasion, when he was back in Indianapolis following a hiatus of a few months, he convinced a friendly sportswriter to secure for him a couple complementary tickets for that night's Indiana Pacers home game. That evening, as the writer headed to the media entrance at Market Square Arena, he noticed Schlichter across the street, scalping the tickets.

Years ago, in Indianapolis, there used to be a joke about Schlichter, one in which it was suggested that he possessed a Midas Touch. No, everything did not turn to gold when he laid hands on it, went the joke. Instead, it turned into a muffler. Even Schlichter used to laugh at the painful punchline, maybe because he had permitted himself to morph into a punching bag, likely because he knew the uncomfortable truth when confronted by it.

Sadly, for Schlichter, the truth is what he has made it. And what he has made of his life, unfortunately, is a shambles. As bad a quarterback as he was -- and he was, in most of his appearances, gawdawful -- he has been an even worse person. A mind is bad enough to waste but there is no acceptable accuse for kicking an entire lifetime to the curb.

In one of my several stories on Schlichter, I encountered a psychologist who had worked with him for months, attempted to plumb the depths of his soul and to uncover his fatal flaw. The doctor noted that his tests revealed Schlichter had an average attention span of two seconds. And, no, that's not a typo.

Even some poor kid diagnosed with any of the various attention deficit disorders has far more retention that that. Heck, a fruit fly has more focus, a hummingbird more stability.

Recalling that psychologist's discovery, maybe it's time the media members who have documented the Schlichter downfall apply a two-second rule from here on out. Ignorance is said to be bliss and so, after Schlichter's latest legal pratfall, perhaps it is time to move toward bliss by ignoring him.

Time was when you could hammer out the latest Schlichter installment and, in a weak moment, feel at least a smidgeon of sympathy for the guy. But you can only write so many fall-from-grace stories, in some cases, before the bottom falls out on basic emotion. Now, when you write about Schlichter, you kind of peck at the keyboard and feel nothing.

After all, Art Schlichter's life undone, we were reminded again last week, was pretty much his own undoing.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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