Art for Art's Sake

I was unsure what to expect when Art Schlichter knocked on our office door in April of 2009. I opened it to find a very large, shy, handsome man at our entrance who regarded me with extreme caution. This lone gesture, his hesitation, made me go into welcome wagon overdrive. I was nice. I was more than nice. I was June Cleaver on Ecstasy. Let me take your coat, your hat, and your gambling addiction and hang them right here on the rack by the closet. Would you like a snack? A drink? Something to help you forget that you were incarcerated for ten years? Here, come and meet the publisher who also happens to be my mother and who, if I can’t fix what ails you, will make you chicken soup, give sound medical advice, and has the warmest, most soothing phone voice ever.

Art sat in a big cushiony chair in the publisher’s office and we were sort of awestruck. It was like having the Grand Canyon in our office—what a history and we couldn’t help but just stare. Every time his phone rang, he answered it. Was he placing a bet? “I have to call you back, I’m in a meeting,” he’d say quickly. He was a bit shy at first but friendly, and had a quick wit. Making conversation with him was not hard; he was pretty forthcoming and charming. But that phone rang constantly.

He visited our office several times after that initial meeting, and each time he loosened up a bit more. We wanted him to trust us. And we wanted to trust him. And given his reputation, he was the one who needed to prove himself, yet we were the ones making sure he was comfortable. At one point we talked about gambling and I couldn’t help but tell him that I had frequented casinos and horse racing tracks and gambled. I thought to myself as we were talking, “Oh my god what if this sends him into a tailspin, just the mere mention of the word ‘casino’? What if he speeds right to the nearest one the minute he is out of here? It will be all my fault.” He sensed my concern. “Don’t worry Sarah, this won’t make me convulse,” he said. That was one thing I learned about him, he could read you, like you had a teleprompter sticking out of your skull advertising your thoughts. He read your face, your body language, the double helix of your DNA.

As the publicity tour began, it was a thrill. He was so easy to promote because so many people wanted to talk with him. ESPN, sports radio stations across the state of Ohio and nationwide. Magazines wanted to interview him; it was exciting. But it got to be overwhelming for Art, understandably so. Another side of him began to show up that I was prepared for but still disappointed that it reared its ugly head. His anger. He would get mad if he had too much going on or if something was brought up that he had tried to keep under wraps, like his altercation with Earle Bruce from twenty-five years ago.

“But Art, you and Earle are friends now, he won’t be mad that you mentioned your discouragement with him over some football play that happened years ago.”

“This will ruin our friendship!” he yelled at me over the phone. As I tried to June Cleaver it, he hung up on me.

Having the whole world in your Ohio farm boy hands when you are a teenager makes you feel a bit entitled. Going to prison takes that entitlement and tells you to stick it with the cell phone you tried to mule in from the outside. Art was mad and at whom I never really could tell.

I scheduled an event for him in May of 2010 at Scarlet Oaks, a vocational school in Cincinnati. He was to spend all day there, speaking to students about his life, his rise to fame, and his free fall from the top of its letter f. I was nervous, it was an all-day event and I wouldn’t be there to make sure everything went smoothly. I had to attend a funeral. So I had to believe that he would be OK. He called me at the end of the day and said he would do one hundred more of those, he enjoyed doing it so much. I was beaming.

He did it, and I was so proud of him and relieved that he resonated with the students. Some of them had been to prison, too. They saw that he survived, and that they could as well. I had visions of Art doing this over and over again, selling books and redeeming himself by warning kids of the dangers of gambling and feeling entitled. Instead Art did something else.

As it turned out, Art had spent the last fourteen months bilking an unsuspecting widow out of millions of dollars to feed his addiction. The newspapers said, “She believed he was a changed man and was doing better with his life.” After all, she did meet him at a church where he was giving a talk and signing copies of the book we published, “Busted, the Rise and Fall of Art Schlichter”.

They struck up a friendship and he asked her for money— $100,000. And she gave it to him, again and again until she had nothing left and no choice but to join him in his scam of selling ‘tickets’ to Ohio State football fans, tickets they would never receive. She wanted her money back and Art would give her only enough money to live day to day. I knew he had this in him. He read her double helix and saw “victim”. He read mine and it said, “You look familiar. This June Cleaver is really Pam Grier.”

Art is now in jail and awaiting trial for fraud and for swindling a woman out of her fortune. The Grand Canyon fell into its own abyss. And we look on with thoughts of who we wanted him to be—successful and recovered—but see him for who he is, a crumpled mess of rocks. Unfortunately, a work of Art.