Sports Wagering and the Fan/Athlete Relationship

I used to collect autographs from the fighters I most admired and had the opportunity to meet. That all ended when I was privileged to meet the greatest of all time. I still treasure my “ALI” hat, that he signed on the underside of the bill. I mean, how to you top that? You don’t. Drop the mic, I’ve reached the top. Collecting autographs or memorabilia, having posters on your wall, or an image of our favorite athlete as a screensaver; our relationship to our favorite athletes is special whether or not we ever get to meet them in person. Thankfully, I never got into sports betting. And it’s hard to imagine ever betting against any of the fighters I loved routing for: Julio Cesar Chavez, Roy Jones, Jr., Evander Holyfield, Oscar DeLaHoya, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Christy Martin, Hector Camacho, Riddick Bowe, James Toney, Vinnie Pazienza, Kostya Tszyu…okay I’ll stop now!

But the availability of sports wagering following many states legalizing this activity has opened up the door for betting right alongside enjoying our favorite sports. It also creates the potential for the unique relationship between player and fan to be altered. A sports fan who chooses to engage in sports betting would be wise to keep this in mind before getting caught up in placing bets. “How will I feel if I bet on my team and they lose?” “What if my favorite player fumbles a play and I lose this bet?” “What if I have better odds of winning by betting against my team?” These are all important questions for a potential bettor to ask themselves.

Check out this article from Sports Illustrated about how players have already begun experiencing backlash from bettors. Don’t think this could be you? Keep in mind gambling in and of itself can be a slippery slope. No one starts out planning to gamble in a disordered way. Likewise, no sports bettor starts out thinking “I’m going to lose my love of this sport, come to hate my favorite players, and seethe with anger at the athletes when I lose a bet.”

So, if someone chooses to bet, sticking to some pre-determined ground rules makes sense. What are your boundaries? What will you never do? Can you put that to paper? Commit that to a friend? Many sports wagering apps have tools for limit setting, time outs, and other “responsible gambling” features. Other apps, like Gamble Responsibly America (available for free download through the app store), and websites like and have tips and tools for trying to keep your eye on the ball, and not letting sports betting spin out of control. And it’s never a bad idea to talk to a counselor to explore your own individual risk for disordered gambling, to learn strategies for lower-risk gambling, and to make adjustments as you go if betting doesn’t go the way you thought it would.

No matter what, “don’t let sports betting get in the way of the game!”

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