“I absolutely think in any situation, education is better than retribution. There was an opportunity for everybody to grow here. I never asked for her to be fired, I asked for it to be stopped and addressed,” Harry Levant, a former gambling addict turned gambling reformer, told Sports Handle. “I don’t think her motives were bad, and of all the people in the world, I’m all about second and third chances. So not only do I not think she should have been fired, I’d be more than happy to help her get her job back. She has a right to be a gambling ambassador, but to do that job she has to understand what people like me are saying. But no, she should not have been fired. We need to make this educational in a way no one is talking about right now.”
So it was Levant — who received his law degree from Temple University, has a masters in professional counseling, and is working toward his doctorate in law and policy at Northeastern University, and who is a loud critic of the “responsible gambling” model (more on that in a moment) — who saw Mathis’ tweet and decided to act.
Mr. Secretary, we need your help.
A representative of @SuperBookSports decided to introduce gambling to 2nd grade students.
Please help to identify this school to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent this from happening.
1 of 2 https://t.co/pmHiFpKiFh
— HJLevant (@HJLExplorer) March 18, 2023
“I reached out to SuperBook, I reached out to the secretary of education, it needed to be seen that 8-year-old children were being capitalized on for purposes to benefit a sports betting company,” Levant said. “The first thing I did was read through her other stuff, and in her material — and she has every right to be — she is such an advocate of ‘let us do what we want.’ There needed to be a pushback on this. And the pushback should blow back to SuperBook because everything she did was for them.”
To recap: Mathis, a host and analyst at SuperBook, was visiting her sister in Illinois. Her sister is a second-grade teacher who asked Mathis to come into her class to give a fun math lesson on March Madness. Mathis explained to the kids about seeding, and what it means, and promised them a pizza party. She then posted a picture of the scene on Twitter. Levant reached out to SuperBook; SuperBook reached out to Mathis, telling her to delete the tweet, which she did. Later that day, she claims, they fired her with a week to go on her contract.
I decided to stick up for myself and tell the story of what occurred with the March Madness bracket incident this weekend. https://t.co/AgZjd6Se56
— Taylor Mathis (@TMathSports) March 20, 2023
“That woman who went into the classroom is a sacrificial lamb of the responsible gaming model,” Levant said. “The issue is, why did she think it was OK in the first place? And that sucks even worse. The mistake she made was putting it on Twitter. I am not a virgin, I don’t think that’s the only second-grade class in America talking about March Madness. I would quarrel with you that using the NCAA Tournament to teach math is a good thing. It’s not a good thing. The more we normalize this for kids, the worse we are.
“The bigger point is these books think they can advertise with impunity any way they want,” Levant continued. “The issue is that she thought she could do it. That it seemed normal. It’s too simple for the sportsbook to fire her. Too f***ing simple.”
Without getting too far in the weeds, Levant believes the “responsible gambling” model is fatally flawed and needs to be replaced with a public health model. Think of tobacco or opioids and how they’re treated by the government. That, in a nutshell, is what Levant is fighting for.
Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, disagrees.
“We see similar problems, but we have vastly different solutions,” Whyte said. “And the logical extension of his rhetoric is that there’s no safe gambling. And he completely misrepresents the responsible gambling model. Whether he misunderstands, or is deliberately altering things to make a point, what he talks about isn’t connected to responsible gambling.”
All about the optics
The conflict between these viewpoints is a distraction from the main subject: Mathis’ firing. It turns out Whyte and Levant have common ground here.
“We didn’t call for her to be fired, certainly,” said Whyte. “I think it was more optics than it was a problem. She wasn’t talking to the kids about odds and lines; at worst she was talking about what a No. 1 seed means. She wasn’t teaching anything about gambling to anyone. The tournament isn’t gambling. The bracket isn’t gambling. The seeds aren’t gambling. She wasn’t talking about gambling, which would’ve been a problem, obviously.”
Levant, despite the outcome for Mathis, stands by his decision.
“As much as I thought it should be investigated — and I still want it investigated — how it could happen like this, how there’s no one in place along the way to say it’s not a good idea, as much as I’d fight for that, I’d stand by her and help her get her job back,” he reiterated. “I would do what I can. I don’t want her to be a sacrificial lamb. You don’t stop this by running over somebody.”
As for Mathis, she’s decided to lie low for the time being, denying the deluge of interview requests that have come her way and deciding to not comment on Levant’s role in her firing.
So what has she been commenting on? What she’s known for commenting on: baseball.
Ohtani is insane
— Taylor Mathis (@TMathSports) March 22, 2023