There were contrasting reactions to reports last week that a Federal investigation of illegal gambling had touched several prominent sports figures, notably a handful of professional football players. Anger, despair and cynical humor, because football was again playing footsie in the headlines with gamblers, were countered by protests that the players mentioned were being smeared, since they were merely expected to be called as witnesses, not as suspects.
But if they were suspects, what could they be suspected of? There are three possible offenses. One is bookmaking, which in most states is illegal when practiced by individuals but acceptable when practiced by states (as in horse racing). This was the offense that interested the Federal authorities in Detroit, but there was no indication that athletes were directly involved. Second is conspiracy to defraud, which would embrace any efforts of bookmakers or athletes to "fix" the results of a contest. This has been hinted at in leaks from Detroit, but so far not substantiated. Third is betting, though not betting per se, which is generally condoned in this country. But an athlete betting on an organized sport in which he participates is violating the rules of his sport, if not the law. Indeed, when a pro football player signs his contract he agrees not to bet or associate with known gamblers or criminal types. Such discipline is indispensable if a sport is to avoid the threat of "fixing," "dumping," or "shaving points" or, at the very least, of shaking the confidence of the fans who support the game. And here the suspicion has not been totally allayed.
Pro football has tried hard to police itself. Pete Rozelle's suspension of two NFL players for a full season half a dozen years ago is evidence of that, and so was the well-publicized furore over Joe Namath's ownership of a bar patronized by racket bums. Rozelle has said in the past that he was proud of the work done by his investigators in tracking down all rumors of misbehavior by players. But why didn't Rozelle's staff know about the current Federal investigation into gambling and the role pro football might have in it? The football commissioner revealed last week that apparently unfounded rumors more than a year ago had led to a thorough investigation (including a lie-detector test) of Len Dawson, the Kansas City quarterback, and that he had been completely cleared. Yet the commissioner admitted that he and his staff had not been aware of Dawson's admitted casual acquaintance with Donald (Dice) Dawson, a restaurateur whom the Government has arrested on gambling charges.
How thorough, in fact, are pro football's investigations? To be fair, how thorough can they be? Has Pete Rozelle been kidding himself?
Chena Gilstrap, the colorful athletic director of Arlington State in Texas, has a son who goes to the University of Texas. Chena's son received a high number in the draft lottery and, says his father, "When I visited him down in Austin, everyone was carrying signs saying WE'RE NO. 1. My kid was carrying one that said I'M NO. 326."
You may have felt that the Milwaukee Bucks were being terribly extravagant last spring when they signed Lew Alcindor to that sky-high bonus-salary deal, but early returns from Wisconsin indicate that it was the best investment Milwaukee Professional Sports and Services, Inc. ever made. Last year the Bucks had receipts of $593,800 for the 72-game season and an operating loss of $178,913. This year, halfway through their home schedule, the Bucks have receipts of $686,000, almost $100,000 better than they received for the previous full season. This figure does not include advance sales or season tickets for games still to be played. Nor does it anticipate income from postseason playoffs, which the Alcindor-led Bucks seem certain to get into.
Of course, the playoffs will present another problem. Milwaukee Arena is booked solidly through the playoff weeks, and the Bucks may end up playing their home games in Madison, 80 miles away. But who was to know?
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