Posted: Wednesday February 8, 2006 1:38PM; Updated: Wednesday February 8, 2006 2:32PM
Pete Rose wrote himself out of the Hall of Fame by gambling on baseball.
Joe Kohen/Getty Images
Pete Rose never got much right, but he has always been dead on whenever he's pointed out that he was treated to a double standard. Drug offenders would get all sorts of chances, but Rose got Murder 1 -- with no parole -- for gambling.
It isn't just baseball. All our sports leagues panic at the mere subject of gambling. The NBA wouldn't even allow Toronto to have a franchise unless legal betting on NBA games was abolished in the whole province of Ontario. The NFL barely acknowledges that a significant part of its popularity is due to the point spread. Baseball still seems to believe that the 1919 Black Sox scandal is somehow always on last month's calendar.
Why so hysterical? In many other countries around the world, the local soccer results are actually used to determine lottery winners. And the truth is that there is no evidence of any fixed professional games for a half-century, back when a thug named Jack Molinas (who was eventually gunned down in a gang slaying) was playing for the Pistons. The last whiff of an NFL fix was in the 1940s. Baseball had a scandalous gambling problem nearly a century ago, but nothing for the past 80 years or so. Oh sure, every now and then some poor college athlete with no chance to make the pros gets caught point-shaving, but it seems almost inconceivable that any professional athlete today would risk multi-million salaries to fix a game.
In fact, it would be almost impossible to fix a pro game in any sport because the fixer would have to be paid so much money to make it worth his while that the gamblers would then have to put down so much money to win, and right away, everybody would know that something was fishy.
Ironically, as much as the pro leagues (and colleges) pretend to look askance at Vegas, the truth is that the legal sports books in Nevada are the canaries in the mine. Vegas is the best friend the pro leagues have in keeping things honest.
Some form of gambling is now legal in 48 of the 50 states. In such a culture, it's asinine to pretend that athletes can be insulated from wagering. Off the field, why should they be any different from the rest of us? Obviously, there are baseball players and basketball players and football players who bet on games in other sports, as sure as the latest bust has apparently uncovered hockey players who have bet.
Most famously, Michael Jordan was revealed to wager significant sums on the golf course and in casinos. Of course, what is a significant sum to you and I might very well have been pin money to Jordan. The one time he was seen playing at an Atlantic City casino late into the night, when he had a playoff game the next evening in New York, received much ado. For me, it wasn't the gambling that bothered me. It was the late hours Jordan was keeping. Gee, if I'd only had a bookie I would've taken the Knicks and the points.
Naturally, sports officials don't want their players doing anything illegal, and, outside of Nevada, betting on games is illegal in the U.S. The problem is only going to become more unmanageable, though, because online sports betting is so convenient and growing by leaps and bounds. It appears impossible to halt this form of wagering, so that, in a way, the busted bookie shop involving NHL principals seems almost quaint.
But until online gambling is legalized, if a professional athlete wants to bet a game in another sport, what's the big deal? Gambling is not and has not been a problem with major league athletes for decades. It receives far more attention than it deserves. Drugs, guns, assaults, drunk-driving, rape -- all the nether activities that all too often regularly involve athletes are what the leagues should devote their concerns to.