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How Sports Betting Could Be Putting Student Athletes’ Mental Health at Risk

Published: July 8, 2024

Student athletes face pressure from everywhere: school, evolving family life, and athletic performance. And now the widespread legalization of sports betting has added a new stressor to their lives. From high school athletes emerging in the public eye to top-tier college players getting national media attention, the culture of sports betting is putting a strain on the mental health of young athletes in Ohio and across the nation. 

Bets where people can bet on one athlete’s performance, also known as prop bets, were until recently the most prominent stressor. By focusing sports bettors’ attention on one particular athlete, prop bets opened student athletes up to abuse and harassment that they wouldn’t face otherwise — often from angry people who have lost money based specifically on how one student athlete had played. The consequences were devastating. 

“It’s terrible,” North Carolina men’s basketball student athlete Armondo Bacot told the NCAA after prop bets were legalized there. “Even at the last game, I guess I didn’t get enough rebounds or something. I thought I played pretty good last game, but I looked at my DMs, and I got like over 100 messages from people telling me I sucked and stuff like that because I didn’t get enough rebounds.”

In response to this wave of negativity towards student athletes, Ohio took action to ban prop bets on college players. Several other states rapidly followed suit, with more expected in the future. But harassment of college athletes has continued even with prop bet bans in place.

Although prop bets are banned, some individuals are still directing abuse at student athletes online and in person at both the high school and college level, resulting in significant negative impacts on their mental health. According to the NCAA, one in three high-profile athletes receive abusive messages, and higher-profile events with sports betting markets attract  an increased volume of abuse. About 90 percent of this harassment is generated online or on social media. 

Just being a student trying to find their way is tough enough. But now student athletes are being targeted with abuse from complete strangers or fellow students while on their way to class, during practice, and at some of the most consequential moments of their budding athletic careers and lives. This abuse can result in a wide variety of mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression, that can have long-lasting negative effects.

Those who engage in betting, responsible gambling advocates, students, and members of the general public all have a role to play in stopping this abuse and lessening the mental health effects for athletes. You can get involved by: 

  • Respecting boundaries: Betting can be emotional. Money is on the line. But it’s just as important to remember to play for fun. If you know or work with someone who engages in sports betting, encourage them to engage responsibly — which includes not contacting student athletes. 
  • Spreading awareness: Sports betting is still a new phenomenon and the effects of legalization, like preventing student athlete abuse, are still evolving. That’s why it is important to shine a light on issues like these and raise awareness about sports betting abuse among student athletes and other youth sports stakeholders. 
  • Supporting athletes: Sports betting culture has become a part of sports culture, and student athletes of all kinds are now facing a daunting mental health situation on and off the field. Be there for student athletes by supporting them, providing resources, and being present when they need it.

Do you know a college student who is experiencing negative effects from sports betting or other forms of gambling? Pause Before You Play’s College Student Toolkit can provide you with resources such as educational handouts, fliers, and posters to educate students on responsible gambling. 

And if you or someone you know needs help, call the Problem Gambling Helpline immediately. Trained and understanding specialists are available 24/7 to take your call, with no strings attached. Call 1-800-589-9966 or text 4HOPE to 741741.

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