An executive for the NFLPA on Friday told a room of state legislators and gaming industry officials that players are concerned about what expanded legal sports betting means for them in their private and on-field lives.
"There are serious consequences, particularly for the athletes," said Casey Schwab, vice president of business and legal affairs for the NFLPA. "Because of those consequences, the athlete's voice must be heard, particularly as we contemplate sports betting in the country."
Representatives from the player associations for MLB, NBA and NHL also attended the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States' summer meeting in Cleveland. Schwab said the players' unions from the respective leagues are on the same page and are focused on the protection of athletes -- their privacy, their data and their public perception -- more than monetization opportunities when it comes to sports betting.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting. Sportsbooks have opened in Delaware and New Jersey, and casinos in Mississippi and West Virginia are expected to be up and running by the start of football season in September. Many more states have introduced legislation aimed at legalizing sports betting.
Players believe the new landscape will add to the venom already directed at them by fantasy sports participants and bettors. Veteran free-agent offensive lineman Eric Winston, who this spring was re-elected as NFLPA president for a third term, said that the "dehumanization of athletes" is a weekly occurrence on social media after games.
"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," Winston said in a video presentation at the conference.
Schwab used LeBron James' decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers and its impact on the NBA title odds as an example of the need to protect the privacy of athletes. The Lakers' odds were as high as 20-1 prior to landing James, but shortened to 7-2 after the decision.
"That information -- what our athletes are doing, where they're going -- has a price tag on it," Schwab said. "And as more money goes into sports betting, that price tag goes up."
Schwab said the players' union and the NFL agree on the current priorities, especially when it comes to protecting the public's perception of the integrity of the game.
"It's the basic premise -- the game ain't rigged," Schwab said. "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."
Las Vegas bookmakers, who also spoke at the conference, said their interests lie with game integrity as well. Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports at Station Casinos in Nevada, pointed to the lack of transparency regarding James' hand injury in the NBA Finals as a concern about integrity. The former Cavs star suffered the injury during the series, but it wasn't disclosed until after Cleveland was eliminated.
MLBPA president Tony Clark, in an op-end in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote that there is a need to establish disclosure standards "that provide a measure of transparency to gamblers, while preserving player privacy and the game's competitive integrity."
"Fans revere athletes who play hurt," Clark wrote. "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?"
Schwab said that while athlete protection is the priority, he realizes that legal sports betting also presents potential opportunities for players. The current NFL gambling policy prohibits players from doing deals with entities affiliated with gambling. The players' association has looked at potential alternative opportunities, including using their biometric data as content for a subscription product for fans and bettors.
"I look at the landscape for commercial opportunities," Schwab said, "and I don't see a pot of gold."