Friday, September 20, 2013

Sports Betting

Recently one of North America's most popular spectator sports, NASCAR, has been implicated in a "race fixing" scandal. This only a week or so on the heels of a report that game fixing has reached into the Canadian Soccer League. Both allegations seem, at least on the surface, to be credible. This is a clear example of the time honoured adage that "perception is reality" as there is nothing more detrimental to the growth of a sport than the notion that the games may not be a fair and unbiased contest of abilities but rather a vehicle for some to enhance their financial position! In fact, it can be its death knell!

As soon as a journalist enters into the world of sports wagering, the case that immediately comes to mind is Pete Rose. "Charlie Hustle" (as he was known in some circles) is major League Baseball's all-time hits leader. That statistic alone would punch anyone's ticket to baseball's sacred shrine in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate NY called Cooperstown, home of "The Baseball Hall of Fame" (not the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame).  Mr. Rose was given a lifetime suspension for gambling when he was the manager of the team for which he played when he got all those hits, the Cincinnati Reds. That sentence was handed down by the then Commissioner of Baseball, the late Bart Giamatti.

Each year, when voting takes place for membership into Cooperstown, there's an ever growing chorus to put the past behind and admit Pete Rose to the Hall of Fame. As time passes, just as the group who would vote for Rose's induction into the hall, there is an equally growing number of members of the Professional Baseball Writers Association, the group that actually does the voting along with the Veterans Committee, who never saw Pete Rose hit a baseball. Pete didn't help his cause when the allegations first surfaced by enthusiastically denying them. Now, he admits to betting on some games involving his team, the aforementioned Reds of Cincinnati. It appears true that he never bet against his team. He always bet the Reds would win. That's a problem! Why didn't he then bet that the team would win every game? When he didn't place a wager on his team, one might argue that it's tantamount to concluding that his team had no chance to win that game. It speaks to the investment Manager Rose might have in game. And what about the players who played for Pete? If betting that the team would win certain games why didn't he tell the players that tonight's game had a few shekels on the line? Oh, yes, I forgot, that's illegal so you wouldn't want to tell anyone would you! I guess Pete did know that what he was doing was contrary to the ethics of the sport he said he loved. Hmm, another problem.

Make no mistake, the BHOF is no cathedral of the righteous & pious! There are any number of players whose lives were lived in such a way that their stories would make good screen plays for dark dramas. Some of them were downright disgusting individuals but between the lines, they played the game to the best of their abilities each and every day. The problem for many was the time they spent away from the ball parks.

Gamblers circle around any endeavor for which there is the perception of an unknown outcome. In North America , the NFL's championship game, more commonly known by the moniker, the "Super Bowl", is the poster child for single event sports betting. You not only can bet on the obvious, the game's outcome, you can bet on a myriad of outcomes within the contest, the so-called "prop bets"! One can wager on which team will score first, when the first score is made, which team will get the initial "first down", the list goes on and on.

Governments are now complicit in sports betting using "lotteries & gaming" to legitimize sources of revenue to support programmes that might otherwise not exist or at least function well. I'm conflicted on that and always have been. I don't know where I stand on that issue.

Pete Rose knew very well that there's only one item on baseball's Code of Ethics, don't wager on the outcome of games while you have any role whereby you can exert any measure of influence on their outcome, full stop! It really doesn't matter whether Pete lied about it not. Sure, had he owned up to his transgression, he would have been seen as more popular in the court of public opinion but to those circling, those big money gamblers, he was and still is seen in a very different light. He's an opportunity! And trust me on this, that's all they're looking for, a crack in the door of a sport's integrity. Rose's supporters are counting on enough to arrive at the conclusion that, "Pete Rose belongs in The Baseball Hall of Fame, just look at his numbers!" As a player, I would like to see him enshrined as well. I loved watching him play. He'll always be one of baseball's best players in the minds of its fans, me included, and that's where his legacy should remain, only in the annals of baseball's history!

I'm pleased that Pete has finally admitted that he bet on baseball. He too is counting on the passage of time to see him get into the hall. But it's going to have to be through the Veterans Committee, not the PBWA according to the rules of the BHOF.

The competitive integrity of a sport, be it amateur or professional is its greatest asset, both from the perspective of a participant and spectator. Would you want to either play or watch a sport where it's outcome was predetermined? I'm guessing the answer to that question is "no"! So much in our society is contrived. If sports is the great escape to the trials and tribulations of life's daily existence, then that escape needs to be protected from those who would make it otherwise. Those who feel sports have value need to ensure the "cracks in the door" never happen.

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