“God, I’m tired. I’m tired of prison. I’m tired of being shackled and chained. I’m tired of being told what to do and when to do it. And most of all, I’m tired of not being able to see my daughters, to hold them and hug them and to tell them I love them. Please watch over me God. Take care of them. Help them be happy. Wrap your arms around them and show them the way. Take care of my mom, too. You know she’s a good woman. She’s someone who deserves happiness. You have to keep me from going insand in here. Please help me survive htis place. Please keep me from killing myself. I don’t want to go out this way. Please God…please don’t let me unscrew that light bulb.”
And so opens the the 2009 autobiography “Busted; The Rise & Fall of Art Schlichter.” The year is 2005 and Schlicter goes on to describe life in solitary confinement, a place ironically named The SHU (Solitary Housing Unit), and his temptations to break the solitary light bulb in his cell and use it to cut his wrists. He has found himself in solitary because he was caught gambling on a basketball game while in prison. Schlichter’s description of his time in solitary is filled with enough regret and self loathing to scare anyone away from a life in prison. The rest of the book doesn’t get any better as he tells of the people he’d wronged, a life full of regrets and ends with his desire to overcome his gambling addiction and spend his life helping others who struggle with gambling addiction.
I received the book in the fall of 2009 from a public relations agent working with Schlichter. She turned out to be an old colleague who used to pitch stories to me back when I was an editor with ThisWeek papers in Columbus. Like Schlichter, she was also from Washington Court House and a friend of the Schliechter family. We talked about Schlichter and his story which she could only describe as a tragedy for all involved. She was also encouraged that he was getting his life back in order.
Over the past two years, it was looking like Schlichter was making a comeback of sorts. He was working his way back into the Columbus radio market and popping up at celebrity events around the city. I think everyone had hoped that Schlicter had put his past behind him and was moving into a new phase of his life.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t.
In a follow up to a story that was first appeared in Friday’s Columbus Dispatch, the Dispatch is reporting this morning that Schlichter isn’t the only one who has been driven to suicidal thoughts by Schlichter’s actions. According to the Dispatch, Schlichter coerced Anita Barney, wife of the late Wendy’s CEO Robert Barney, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and even coerced Barney to borrow large sums from friends and acquittances on Schlicter’s behalf. By the time it was all over, Schlichter had driven Barney to such a point of despair that she went to her husband’s grave with the intention of killing herself only to be saved by a phone call from her son.
According to the Barney’s story in today’s Dispatch, Barney was reunited with Schlichter in the fall of 2009 as he was promoting his book (at a church event) and discussing his commitment to help others with gambling addiction. She was impressed by his desire to help others and loaned him the money on the promise that he would pay her back from the profits made with the book. The loan was never paid back and instead of returning her money, Schlichter drug her into a world of get-rich ticket schemes and pressure that drove her to destruction. It is a tail far more desperate than anything in Schlichter’s book.
Having never personally suffered from addiction, it is hard for me to relate to a disease of this sort. However, after reading Schlichter’s description of his addiction and the pain he claims to have felt for those he harmed, it can only be described as a disease. What else could lead someone into such a state of despair while ruthlessly bringing others down with him.
The question then becomes, why do we care? Why does it bother us to see a man like Schlichter fall yet again? On some level it doesn’t. Here is a guy who had every chance in the world only to throw it away over and over again. On another level though it does. It bothers us in the same way that it bothered us to see Pete Rose fall from the lofty heights of childhood heroedom.
But with Schlichter, there’s something more. Schilchter is a part of the history that is Ohio State football. It was Art Schlichter that I watched as a kid going to my first Ohio State games. It is Art Schilchter, the last quarterback to play for the legendary Woody Hayes. And yes, it was Art Schlichter who threw the interception that lead to the firing of Coach Hayes. For many, Schlichter captures a moment in time, a romantic memory of days gone by.
And maybe it’s the shattering of that memory that makes the story personal for the rest of us. We want our heroes to live on. We want them to be the people we always made them out to be, if even in our own minds. This desire is shown by Schlichter’s ability to be quickly accepted back into the Columbus and Ohio State community shortly after his release from prison.
College sports attract us in a way that professional sports can’t. For many, college football traditions become a living representation of an important time in our lives. For a few moments on those fall Saturday afternoons, we are taken back to a time when the world was laid out in front of us filled with potential and dreams yet to be determined. In a few hours we are taken on an emotional roller coaster as we pull behind a team that in some way, represents us–no matter who you cheer for.
Unfortunately, the pressure we place on our heroes and the image we reflect upon them often serves us but not the person behind that image. Schilchter’s gambling problems go back to his days at Ohio State. His is a sickness that has harmed not only himself but those around him. For most of us, our memory of a great Ohio State quarterback will always be there. Sadly, so will our memory of a deeply troubled individual.