Bradley Beal's altercation with disgruntled bettor a sign of things to come in gambling-addled sports world
Fans think a lost wager buys them the right to cross bright red lines
This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
To normal high school track athletes, placing second in the 100-metre final at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championship might feel like winning Olympic silver. Sprint talent runs deep in Toronto and the regions that surround it — Peel to the west, Durham to the east and York to the north.
Surviving that competition and landing on a podium — regardless of gender or age group — means you can fly. Point blank, period. Second place is absolutely worth celebrating.
Unless you're Tyrone Halstead, a sweetheart of a kid and supersonic sprinter I used to coach at The Woodlands School in Mississauga, where he set a school record in the 100. By the time he finished his U Sports career, he was one of the most decorated track athletes in York University's history, and in high school he hardly ever lost.
Except that one time, in the 2006 OFSAA final, senior boys 100 metres. He started poorly, closed well, finished second, and fumed afterward.
But the middle-aged guy who got in Tyrone's face outside Etobicoke Centennial Stadium might have been even angrier. He claimed he had lost $300 betting on that race, and screamed at a 17-year-old as if the kid owed him money. Punctuated the tirade with a shove.
I didn't witness any of this. Tyrone told me about it later. If I had seen that man put his hands on a kid I coached, I'd be writing this column about my first mugshot.
It's not that I condone violence. I just don't tolerate fools. If you can find a better word for a grown man who blows $300 betting on high school track, please let me know.
But now, five years after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for widespread legal sports gambling, and a week after this blowup between Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and a disgruntled bettor, that post-track-meet meltdown feels different.
Back then it was just a temper tantrum from a man who should have known and acted better. Now it looks like a preview of our gambling-addled sports future — where betting surrounds us, and bettors think a lost wager buys them the right to cross bright red lines.
Before we continue… Yes, I understand that athlete's salaries increase in accordance with revenue, and that gambling outfits and the diabetes/weight-loss drug Ozempic have emerged as two important sources of sponsorship dollars. They're the rising tide floating everybody's advertising boat this season.
But if you're asking who gets my empathy between Beal, who has spent a lifetime building NBA-level skill, and the unnamed spectator, hoping to ride some luck — and Beal's hard work — to an easy payday, I'm siding with Beal.
Post-game confrontation with fan
The visiting Wizards lost 122-112 to the Orlando Magic last week. Afterward, Beal, who put up 16 points and seven rebounds, was walking from the court to the locker room when a furious fan greeted him with an R-rated, betting-related tirade.
"You made me lose $1,300, you f—."
We can assume the F-word the fan used was not "friend," because Beal detoured, approached the fan and his friends, and, according to a police report, used his right hand to knock a hat off the head of one of the offending fan's friends.
Was Beal justified in, allegedly, doing this?
Note that even in Florida, with its controversial, wide-ranging, stand-your-ground laws, police have chosen to investigate Beal, and not the instigator, who blabbed about betting on sports in a state where it's not (yet) fully legal.
But it's also a point of fact that Beal didn't make that man lose $1,300. None of the Wizards did, unless he's alleging that Beal forced him to make the bet, and then tanked the game.
Otherwise, that man lost that money all on his own. Nobody promised him his $1,300 would survive the Wizards-Magic game. That's why it was a bet.
WATCH | The Fifth Estate explores sudden spike in sports betting options:
Reliable source of revenue
Of course, for pro sports organizations, gambling has become a reliable source of revenue. The American Gaming Association projects that U.S.-based leagues bring in $4.2 billion a year, directly and indirectly through various gambling partnerships. That figure includes the fees sports books pay for league data, and the money gambling outfits spend to advertise on broadcasts.
And it covers sponsorships.
The NBA has gambling partnerships with FanDuel, DraftKings and MGM, among others. And the NFL? They have deals with DraftKings and FanDuel and Caesars. They even concocted an oxymoron of an adjective to describe the setup.
And it's always worth reminding people that, despite all the messaging telling us that placing a wager will help us enjoy our favourite game, these companies need you to lose bets the same way Infiniti needs you to buy cars. It's how they make their money.
Some people lose big, the way Drake did when he bet $1 million on Argentina to win the World Cup Final. And most people lose smaller sums, like the $1,300 our friend in Orlando burnt when he bet on the Wizards.
Ugly sports future
That bettor also appears to think his wager bought him freedom from the consequences of his trash talk, and in investigating Beal the police seem to back him, which portends an annoying, ugly sports future. When a pair of Pacers fans wished death upon LeBron James's son, the Lakers star had them ejected from the arena — rightfully.
But if a fan can f-bomb an athlete to his face over a faulty bet that fan made, how far are we from a sports world where fans treat players the way taxpayers — justifiably — treat public officials.
"You better listen to me! My gambling problem PAYS YOUR SALARY!"
Are you ready to sit in a stadium full of those people?
If you tell me athletes owe us a good-faith effort, I'm with you. We spend money and time watching them perform, and expect them to deliver.
And if you say they need to limit load-management, I'll hear you out. A lot of us plan sports outings months in advance, based on who we think we'll see. If your favourite player is healthy but opts out the night you show up, I can see why you would want a refund.
But it doesn't matter how many commercials tell you how awesome gambling is. All those companies want you to lose, so don't gamble money you're going to miss.
And next time, keep your f-bombs to yourself. Nobody signed up to be your punching bag when you make a bad bet.