- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

In football, a former Florida State quarterback has been charged with betting on his team's games. In baseball, officials are talking about lifting Pete Rose's ban for a similar transgression. In basketball, a WNBA franchise has been bought by an Indian tribe that operates a casino. And in local horse racing, the governor of Maryland wants to put slot machines at tracks.
Have our sports ever been so awash in gambling? On second thought, let me rephrase that. Has our culture ever been so awash in gambling? That's where it all begins, with state lotteries and bingo games and riverboat casinos and keno at sports bars. In such an environment, it's not hard to imagine Adrian McPherson, the ex-Seminoles quarterback, running up a debt of $8,000 last season wagering on games, according to police. In fact, if there's any surprise, it's that we don't read stories like his more often.
Don't worry. I'm not going to get up on any soapboxes and rail about the evils of gambling. Gambling is no more inherently evil than, say, drinking another activity closely associated with our games. What is disturbing, though, is that gambling has become so pervasive that we've grown almost casual about it. Witness the weakening of public outrage over Rose's wagering; he committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins of sports, and yet people are actually starting to think of him as the victim.
Why? Because almost everybody does it gamble, that is. Folks feel Pete's pain. And in forgiving him, they're, on some level, forgiving themselves (those, at least, who harbor some guilt about tithing to Atlantic City).
Even some of our saner commentators seem blind to gambling's dangers. After the NFL refused to allow a Super Bowl commercial from the Las Vegas convention and visitors authority, Frank Deford huffed: "American sports leagues love to maintain this fiction that gamblers are a threat to their games. … The last time there was any real evidence of even an attempted fix in one of our major pro sports was a half-century ago in the NBA by a rogue player named Jack Molinas. The last time there was an attempted fix in the NFL was in 1946. It has been more than 80 years since gamblers seriously tried to fix baseball games. The players in our professional leagues simply make too much money, which is why the few attempted fixes there have been invariably involved poor college kids with no future."
There are several major holes in Deford's argument. The first is his assumption that something that hasn't happened in a long time isn't likely to happen again. That's like saying the Cubs will never win the World Series when we all know they will, in the next century if not this one. The second is his apparent faith that we know about all the fixes or attempted fixes in the last 80 years. Raise your hand if you think there might be, oh, one or two that were never disclosed.
I'm reminded of something Mike Mussina said last year on the issue of gay athletes. Asked how he'd feel if he found out he had one as a teammate, Mussina said, "I assume I already have." As for me, I assume, in my nearly 50 years, that I've seen or read about a pro sports event that gamblers at least tried to fix. I mean, let's be real here. Professional athletes have sold drugs, involved themselves in business scams, beaten their wives, even committed murder. And you're telling me one of them one "renegade," one scud missile couldn't have entertained the thought of throwing a game or shaving points?
Perhaps the biggest weakness in Deford's argument is his contention that pro athletes "simply make too much money" to ever rig a game. Granted, many of them have a ton of dough, but sometimes it goes just as quickly as it came. Consider this three-step recipe for disaster:
1. Player gets divorced. Wife gets half.
2. Player discovers he's being represented by a disreputable agent (e.g. Tank Black). Suddenly, he's in debt.
3. Player is near the end of his career and has to take a pay cut to stay employed.
Think a guy like that wouldn't be vulnerable to fixers?
Two of the players bilked by Black, Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony, were in the Redskins' training camp last summer. Had they been so inclined, how easy would it have been for Green to drop a punt or Anthony a pass at an opportune time? It wouldn't even have had to effect the outcome, only the over/under.
Athletes are hardly immune to financial misfortune. This morning it's Jaromir Jagr reportedly owing more than $3million in back taxes. Tomorrow it might be someone else. But to many Americans, Frank Deford among them, it just doesn't seem possible that a pro game could be fixed.
Until one is.

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