RFFM.org Commentary by Daniel T. Zanoza
On Wednesday, August 15th, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy turned himself in to federal authorities related to charges he wagered on more than 20 NBA games. Donaghy first came under scrutiny when it was revealed he allegedly bet on games he officiated, including a 2006 play-off game.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is also facing charges that he led a dog fighting ring where thousands of dollars were wagered. To date, those indicted with Vick have agreed to plea bargains with the federal government and Vick has until Friday, August 17th to accept a deal from prosecutors or face the full weight of the federal legal system.
Donaghy and Vick, besides being connected to the multi-billion dollar sports industry, have one other thing in common. The charges which both men are facing are centered around gambling.
It will be interesting to see how the world of professional sports will react to what may be the biggest scandal since the 1919 Black Sox fiasco where eight members of the Chicago White Sox profited from a gambling scheme which had them throw the 1919 World Series.
However, the NBA and NFL in recent years haven't exactly tried to distance the leagues from gambling. In fact, the NBA recently held its All Star Game in Las Vegas. League officials and the media raved about the game and the Las Vegas atmosphere. "What a great idea," said one prominent sports reporter. "I think this game may prove that a professional team from Las Vegas should not be out of the question for the NBA or the other major sports leagues."
The Donaghy and Vick situations will surely put a damper on such enthusiasm in the future. The NFL has been accused by some of crossing a fine line regarding what many see as catering to the gambling industry--legal and illegal.
During the season, a myriad of sleazy types host infomercials where gambling lines are posted on games of that week. "Call 1-800-Can't Miss to get five of my sure picks," say those who hawk their wares to NFL fans. Some assert many of these individuals have access to inside information concerning the physical condition of star players.
The NFL hasn't exactly attempted to put a damper on such activity which the federal government estimates to result in billions of dollars being illegally wagered each year.
Of course the case involving Vick and dog fighting goes far beyond the issue of gambling. But authorities on the subject assert gaming is at the root of the problem and a culture driven by gambling is quietly dominating professional sports.
In the future, expect to see officials from major sports leagues take draconian steps in the effort to curb athelete's link to gambling.
Surely, if Donaghy and Vick are eventually found guilty of the charges facing them, they will pay a high price. However, professional sports must share much of the guilt regarding the subject.
There is a reason why professional sports teams do not have franchises in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Human nature has proven, many times over, that temptation may be too great for those with the best of character. Yet in recent years professional sports and those who control it have been playing Russian roulette with a gun that has a lethal bullet in every chamber.
So in upcoming months you may see the NFL suddenly down-playing the spread on games and you may be seeing the NFL down-playing the injury report which gives gamblers a tip on who will be playing that week and who will not.
Professional sports has to do some serious soul-searching regarding gambling and its relationship to the practice. Otherwise, the Donaghy and Vick situations may be the tip of an iceberg that has the potential to sink professional sports like the Titanic.