Colorado Leads Effort To Protect Student-Athletes From Online Abuse

Written By Hill Kerby on 05/09/2023
Colorado program student-athletes online abuse.

Imagine you’re a college athlete who’s playing hard until the final whistle. You score at the very end of the game, but it does not affect the outcome. However, your score does affect the sports betting world. Your basket or touchdown or goal allowed your team to cover the spread when it looked like that wouldn’t happen just a few seconds earlier.

Bettors with large sums of money on the game were going to strike it rich, only to see your late score turn their windfall into a huge deficit. Before long, your social media accounts are blowing up … and not in a good way. Bettors are livid, and they’re taking their anger out on you. Threats, slurs, the whole nine.

Up to now, in Colorado, your only defense was to delete your social media accounts or try to ignore the abuse.

On April 27, the Colorado Department of Revenue approved $215,000 in grant funding for the Kindbridge Research Institute to establish the Colorado Athlete Wellbeing Program. The program takes an active approach toward combatting online abuse that student-athletes have increasingly faced as sports betting’s popularity grows nationwide.

Program provides athletes with several resources to combat online abuse

Colorado online sports betting is now well established. Since its launch in May 2020, Colorado has become one of the hottest sports betting markets in the country. In fact, per capita sports betting in The Centennial State ranks third in the US.

The growth of sports betting in Colorado and across the nation, however, comes with a price. And unfortunately, student-athletes are many times paying the costs of expanded sports betting. Social media gives bettors direct access to athletes. And, sometimes, those bettors take out their frustrations on college players who they feel cost them a winning bet.

Now, college athletes in Colorado have the tools to fight back. The Colorado Athlete Wellbeing Program creates a variety of avenues for college athletes to tackle mental health issues. 

The most prominent aspect is the Colorado Athlete Wellbeing app, designed alongside sports technology leader Sportradar. In the app, athletes can report abuse and trigger a network of global investigators to find the source and report the offense to the proper authorities. It will be the first of its kind in the US when it officially launches later this year.

Several additional components make up the program’s ‘Pathway to Treatment. Athletes will have access to educational-based resources and a preliminary mental health assessment. Meanwhile, the state will utilize specialized intelligence and investigative support practices to take a proactive, tiered approach to ensure proper legal action is taken against abusers.

Online abuse of student-athletes is a new yet prevalent issue

Numerous collegiate athletes throughout the country have experienced the exact scenario described at the start of this article.

Most recently, a Round 2 matchup between Texas Christian University and Gonzaga University during this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament ended in a half-court buzzer-beater that turned a six-point game into a final score of 84-81.

The spread was four points, meaning the basket allowed TCU to cover. Damion Baugh, the TCU player who sunk the three-pointer, found his Instagram inbox full of angry messages from Gonzaga bettors.

Players from the University of Dayton received similar heat after losing to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Conference Final. Coach Anthony Grant said it sickened him to see people attacking his kids and making it about themselves. Baylor’s Adam Flagler also spoke out, saying he constantly fields direct messages containing racial slurs on social media.

An FBI agent told ESPN recently that athletes receiving threats on social media is becoming a “growing issue,” one that has risen since sports betting started becoming legal in states across the US.

Kindbridge focuses on all aspects of gambling

To tackle this issue head-on, the Colorado Department of Revenue chose Kindbridge, an institute that specializes in mental health research. The organization utilizes evidence-based approaches to gaming, gambling, and other behavioral health disorders. Its mission is to inform public health policy and legislation centered around gambling disorders.

In partnering with Sportradar for the new app, Kindbridge immediately adds more expertise to the equation. The two already worked together this year when Iowa guard Connor McCaffery faced similar abuse.

Kindbridge and Sportradar alike echoed a need for athletes to have strong support systems and be able to speak out when encountering abuse. Now, they are leading the charge in finding solutions to ensure athletes’ safety and mental well-being.

Kindbridge’s mission in Colorado, however, also includes veterans. The institute will receive another $362,700 from the Colorado Military Problem Gaming Research, Education, and Recovery Program. It will focus on two critical areas:

  • Helping veterans struggling with gambling addiction
  • Creating a fellowship program for veterans who want to pursue careers in mental health and counseling

Colorado is not alone in the fight

Colorado may be the first to get the ball rolling, but it isn’t the only entity taking the initiative on harassment and abuse of student-athletes. 

Two months ago, around 125 college sports officials, sportsbook executives, and state regulators met to discuss the issue. U.S. Integrity President Matt Holt organized the meeting, saying the issue united everyone in the sports and gambling industries.

Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, also spoke on the matter, highlighting the need for an all-angles approach toward abusive gambling behaviors.

“Anybody who is harassing student-athletes based on betting, it’s a clear indication that they have a gambling problem and should be seeking help and not continue to actively participate in any legal gambling sites.”

According to Holt, regional groups will soon form to get more states to create legislation on abuse and athletes’ mental health. When other states’ lawmakers take notice, Colorado will have a blueprint ready for them to follow.

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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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