Within the last five years of legalized sports betting across the nation, many student-athletes have received regular abusive messages from disgruntled gamblers via social media. This has included threats of violence and death wishes.
Sportradar has worked to become a responsible leader within the sports betting industry. Their Athlete Wellbeing program assists league partners and helps protect athletes by providing resources and support where needed.
Sportradar partners with Iowa’s Connor McCaffery
Iowa guard Connor McCaffery has been dealing with social media abuse. He plays under his father, coach Fran McCaffery, and sought help after he started seeing an increase in harassment online.
Sportradar partnered with McCaffery to use his voice to encourage other student-athletes to protect their mental health. Their Intelligence and Investigations unit is led by a former intelligence officer who was a member of the British Armed Forces. Sportradar has identified many social media bullies in the U.K. and submitted their information to law enforcement.
Jim Brown, head of Sportradar’s integrity and athlete well-being services in North America, gave PlayIowa his thoughts.
“At this time, there is no definitive research on the prevalence of online harassment related to sports wagering,” he said.
Even so, Brown touched on some factors that relate to a rise in student-athlete harassment.
“A few factors may be the popularity of the spread market in the US, the popularity of player-specific prop bets and/or the relatively immature US marketplace.”
Michelle Hatfield, LMFT and CCO of Kindbridge Behavioral Health, is one of Sportradar’s Athlete Wellbeing subject matter experts. In an interview with PlayIowa, Hatfield said, “Even if the athlete and his or her team won the biggest game of their life, it’s guaranteed someone missed a bet and is emotionally charged enough to get online and hate-tweet.”
Hatfield continued to say that this is a reality that athletes will have to face given legal industries, including Iowa sports betting.
“They’re going to need a strong support network to discuss these issues. They’re also going to need to develop coping skills for new stressors and anxieties that weren’t there before.”
What can be done to curb the harassment?
According to an interview between an FBI agent and ESPN, threats via social media have become a big issue. In March, many college sports officials, gambling regulators and sportsbook executives met to talk about how to handle this.
An incident was brought up about a guard who missed late-game free throws that would have covered a double-digit point spread for bettors. He was a backup guard and only played because the game was looking like a blowout. After missing those shots, he received a death threat on social media.
This was reported to U.S. Integrity and then the FBI. According to then-West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez, the FBI tracked down and confronted the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, social media abuse only becomes a crime once there is a threat to someone’s life or the wellbeing of an athlete or their family, according to the FBI.
Matt Holt, president of U.S. Integrity, organized the conference call after this incident and the rise in incidents. He mentioned that this group will create regional groups and pressure lawmakers to take action.
“Anybody who is harassing student-athletes based on betting, it’s a clear indication that they have a gambling problem and should be seeking help and not continue to actively participate in any legal gambling sites,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president for the American Gaming Association.
College athlete is threatened for playing down to the buzzer
Damion Baugh and his TCU Horned Frogs lost to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He gave it his all until the end, though, as he hit a three-pointer at the buzzer despite the game’s outcome not being in doubt.
Gonzaga was a four-point favorite, and the score ended up being 84-81 after that shot. Baugh brought the spread below four, so anyone betting on Gonzaga covering the spread lost money.
Baugh’s inbox began to fill up with angry messages from gamblers, and he decided to take to Twitter in response.
I Don’t Get How Y’all Mad Because I Played Until The Last Buzzer🤦🏾♂️Proud Of My Team And We Taught To Fight Until The End……Nobody Told Y’all To Bet🤷🏾♂️
— DAM10N BAUGH (@_swaggyd10_) March 20, 2023
He commented further and said, “I feel like tweeting at college athletes, period, insane. I think it’s because people think, ‘I can say whatever to him because I know he can’t say anything back.’ It’s getting out of hand.”