NFLPA Execs Debate Sports Betting’s Effect on Player Privacy

NFL Players Association Sports Betting

NFLPA President Eric Winston is concerned expanded sports betting could further lead to the dehumanization of athletes.

Casey Schwab, VP of Business & Legal Affairs for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), told a room of state lawmakers and gaming industry executives gathered in Cleveland this week that NFL players are concerned about the implications of expanded legal sports betting on their lives. Schwab said that players are concerned about what expanded sports betting’s effect on their private and public lives.

The NFLPA official spoke at a summer meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, which took place this week in Cleveland. Representativves from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL players associations each spoke before the assembled lawmakers and executives.

During his speech, Casey Schwab said, “There are serious consequences, particularly for the athletes. Because of those consequences, the athlete’s voice must be heard, particularly as we contemplate sports betting in the country.”

Much of the discussion since the US Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting in 46 states has been on leagues getting their cut of the action. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has focused on royalty fees on sports betting, while NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has called for integrity fees. Even the combined players associations released a statement suggesting pro athletes deserved compensation from increased sports betting.

Casey Schwab on NFLPA Concerns

Casey Schwab told the assembled political and business leaders this week that players are less concerned with compensation and more concerned with privacy. The business and legal affairs exec said players’ privacy, data and public perception concerned them more than whatever compensation they could wring from legal sportsbooks.

Eric Winston, the newly-reelected 3-time NFLPA president, said in a video presentation that expanded sports betting could lead to the “dehumanization of athletes” — an issue Winston said happens weekly on social media after games.

Eric Winston: The Dehumanization of Athletes

In the presentation, Eric Winston, currently a free agent offensive lineman who has played for 5 NFL teams during his 13-year NFL career, said of the dehumanization of athletes, “A lot of people look at us as — I don’t know if it’s subhuman — but not necessarily human, not necessarily having those feelings those issues that everyone else is having.”

One could argue whether US sports fans view pro athletes as sub-human or superhuman — and it might be a mixture of both — but Eric Winston’s argument has some merit. Fantasy football team owners are known to launch into tirades when the players on their fantasy teams underperform or get injured. A fantasy owner’s complaining to an NFL player on social media about their injury status is crass and insensitive, to say the least.

Casey Schwab and Eric Winston argue that expanded gambling could lead to more such incidents. In such a scenario, gamblers might complain to players about losing a bet, due to injury or a poor performance. Fans might say that players are well-compensated for such an inconvenience, and the point is well-taken. Whether that makes it right is another matter.

Athletes’ Privacy Discussed at Meetings

The NFLPA’s VP of Business argued that a player’s privacy was of greater concern. NFL players who do not want to be harassed on Twitter can simply shut down their account or make it private. That might not help the player promote their public appearances or public causes as much, but it is an alternative. In fact, it’s an alternative most NFL teams would prefer they make.

The issue of privacy is another matter. When personnel decisions are made in free agency, the sports media and tabloid media have been known to go to far. Whether it’s ESPN, TMZ, or sports betting high rollers, a lot of money is up for grabs if a player’s free agency decision can be learned before the general public is aware. That can lead to serious invasions of privacy.

Free Agent Decisions and Athlete’s Privacy

Casey Schwab pointed out LeBron James’ recent decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers’ 2019 NBA Finals odds were at 20-to-1 or more before LeBron James announced his decision, but they lowered to 7-to-2 odds once it was announced. A sports bettor receiving inside knowledge of the decision would have had a huge advantage at the sportsbook.

Of course, Casey Schwab might have undermined his argument by bringing money back into the discussion. He added, “That information — what our athletes are doing, where they’re going — has a price tag on it. And as more money goes into sports betting, that price tag goes up.”

Sports Integrity Discussed Less

One important takeaway from the week’s discussions was how little “integrity” was discussed. At one time, the danger of match-fixers paying pro athletes to throw a game might have been the biggest point of discussion.

No more. In an age where US pro athletes receive multi-million dollar contracts — or, in the case of key athletes, contracts worth tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars — few people are concerned about NFL, MLB, or NBA stars throwing a game. The risk/reward factor would be off-the-charts.

Casey Schwab reiterated, “It’s the basic premise — the game ain’t rigged. Everyone’s trying their hardest. From the athlete’s perspective, it’s slightly nuanced, and I would argue … that the athlete’s perspective is the most important.”

Will Fan’s Reverse Athletes Who Play Hurt?

MLBPA President Tony Clark wrote in an op-ed article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that leagues must take steps for full disclosure of injuries to solve any lingering concerns about the integrity of sports. Tony Clark made an interesting point that athletes who play hurt could hurt sports bettors, which might lead to a backlash.

In his opinion piece, Tony Clark wrote, “Fans revere athletes who play hurt. Will that be true going forward? How do we balance a team’s right to gain a competitive edge and a state or league’s interest in selling gamblers as much information as possible?”

The Effect of Expanded Legal Sports Betting

In short, expanded legal sports betting will lead to a Pandora’s box of new issues for pro athletes. The sports should be more lucrative, because more sports betting means more TV viewers. That in turn means more lucrative television contracts (than without sports betting), which in turn leads to bigger contracts for the sports’ players.

But those advantages have tradeoffs and pitfalls. Players will have to deal with those tradeoffs. Ultimately, they are pro athletes and they’ll have to adjust. Many Americans gladly would trade places for the ability to make millions playing a sport, even with the health risks and social media drawbacks.

Despite that, fan reaction to lost bets is something the sports’ leaders should discuss. Leaders among the ownership and the players associations in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL should be understand that sports betting can help them, but also undermine the popularity of the sports.