Taylor Mathis got fired from her job as a host and analyst at SuperBook because she went into her sister’s second-grade classroom in Illinois and talked to them about March Madness as a math exercise.
To be clear, Mathis — a University of Iowa journalism graduate who has worked her way up the ranks after getting her start at a southwestern Nebraska ABC affiliate — did not teach these second-graders how to place a parlay, how to open a sportsbook account, or how to game the bonus system.
Nope. She went into her sister’s second-grade classroom and talked about the numbers next to the team’s names.
“I was back in Illinois for my sister’s baby shower,” Mathis told Sports Handle. “She asked me to come into her classroom and help her out. Our original plan was to show the class how a scorecard works in baseball, as baseball is what I concentrate on professionally. Then I said, ‘Why don’t we do a bracket? It’s March Madness, and it can be relevant to them because it’s going on now.’ She said they’d love it, especially a group of basketball-crazy boys she has in her class.”
But wait! It gets … not worse at all.
“I went in last Thursday, we did the bracket for an hour and a half,” Mathis recalled. “We went around in a circle, and each kid had to say their name and an interesting fact. When it came to me and they asked me what my interesting fact was, I told them I was a sports reporter. I didn’t say one word about gambling. I told them I work with athletes and teams. They’re in second grade, they thought it was so cool.
“Then we picked teams,” Mathis continued. “The extent of it was explaining what a 1-seed and a 16-seed means, and 5-seed and a 12-seed, and then we literally went through and picked teams, got to the championship — they picked Alabama — and then I told them I’d buy them a pizza party.”
It could’ve ended there, but Mathis made the fateful decision to post a picture of herself with the class and the bracket, where angry commenters had … um, nope. No angry commenters. Everyone on social media thought it was cool. Tons of positive responses. Nothing negative.
So talking probability for the NCAA tournament bracket in math class
— Antonio Ochoa (@a_Ochoa62) January 22, 2014
But then Mathis got an email from her boss at SuperBook on Saturday morning. She was told SuperBook got an email from a gambling reform group. The group accused Mathis — and, by extension, SuperBook — of … child grooming.
Yes, child grooming.
Mathis was told to delete the tweet and issue an apology. Which she immediately did. Through tears.
In regards to the tweet about teaching kids how to do a bracket: I taught them about filling out a bracket. There wasnt any gambling involved. just trying to do something w kids sports&math. It’s being viewed as grooming. I’m sorry if doing that was wrong it wasn’t my intent.
— Taylor Mathis (@TMathSports) March 18, 2023
“I was sobbing,” Mathis said. “I couldn’t believe I was getting accused of grooming. It was fun with math with second-graders.”
Mathis thought this was over.
It wasn’t over.
Later Saturday, she got an email from SuperBook’s compliance department.
“It said I was being let go and I have to delete everything about my relationship with SuperBook and I can’t talk to any employees or interact with anyone at SuperBook until further notice,” Mathis said.
Due to recent events, SuperBook Sports finds it necessary to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to Responsible Gambling and protecting youth.
— SuperBook Sports (@SuperBookSports) March 18, 2023
By the way, not only is Mathis’ sister a teacher, but Mathis’ mom has been teaching kindergarten for 33 years.
“I would never in a million years go into a classroom and teach children about gambling,” Mathis said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Gone too far
What’s also ridiculous is that she got fired for doing this, and it begs the question: Would she have gotten fired for this last year, before the series of New York Times articles that have sent legislators and regulators into a mouth-foaming frenzy in an effort to one-up themselves in the name of capital-R, capital-G Responsible Gambling?
My gut tells me no. But what do I know?
All I know is Mathis — who, interestingly enough, had already given notice to SuperBook and her last day was supposed to be this Friday (she got a gig at SportsGrid) — did absolutely nothing wrong, and certainly seems to be a casualty of the walking-on-eggshells moment the industry is finding itself in. Sports betting is the current boogeyman, with legislators seeking to limit or outright ban the industry from promoting itself. (Never mind the more insidious lottery that lines the pockets of the states.) Sportsbooks — and all attached businesses — are finding themselves in an unwelcome limelight, and, at least based on this case, might be a little hair-trigger when it comes to self-policing.
Again, this is a story about someone who talked to kids about a basketball tournament and got fired for doing so.
“My sister didn’t get in trouble, obviously,” Mathis noted. “My mom’s school has a huge bracket up in the hallway. The fourth-grade teachers in my sister’s school compete with each other in brackets. It’s everywhere.”
Totally ridiculous. I’ve been filling out brackets since I was a kid, and I’m also a teacher who thinks it’s fun to have the students fill them out. Keep your head up and don’t let the fun police get to you!
— Jeff Nicol (@JTNIC9) March 18, 2023
Mathis has been sacrificed at the altar of responsible gambling. There’s no other way to say it. (Emails to representatives of SuperBook went unreturned.)
“I’m very thankful everyone online was behind me and many people in the industry reached out and have my back,” she said.
She can count one more over here.