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Sunday, January 16, 2011
Recalling Tim Donaghy
My son became a big NBA basketball fan as he grew up and eventually I decided that the father-son trips we made would include visits to Phoenix for NBA games. As the 2007 NBA season played out, my interest in the NBA became renewed.
However, in the playoffs I slowly began to realize, as a seasoned basketball game broadcaster, that the NBA referee crew working the Suns versus Spurs series should be investigated for criminal activity. Many of the calls made in that 2007 series were so inexplicably bizarre, that there simply could be no other explanation. I swore off the NBA at the end of the 2007 season once and for all. And it came as no surprise later when NBA official Tim Donaghy was found by the FBI to be involved in gambling on NBA games he actually officiated. Donaghy had worked the Suns vs. Spurs series and bet on the Spurs. Amazingly, only Tim Donaghy was charged with a crime. Eventually Donaghy served only eleven months in prison. Donaghy's colleague Scott Foster, who received more than a hundred quick cell phone calls from Donaghy just before and after games somehow managed to escape prosecution.
NBA Commissioner David Stern seemed to be nodding and winking at the rest of the evidence of a more widespread problem when he declared Donaghy a "rogue official" acting alone during the press conference that closed the door on the scandal. On Saturday afternoon January 15, 2011 the same tell-tale signs of possible corruption turned up in the Baltimore versus Pittsburgh NFL playoff game. It would take too much space to list all the signs of foul play that should raise serious suspicions about the integrity of officiating in the NFL. Will the NFL investigate? Don’t hold your breath. Most reasonable people would think that all professional sports would want to take serious steps to keep their game clean. However, the pattern of containment by the NBA leadership during the Tim Donaghy scandal is instructive. After it was revealed that Donaghy made calls to Scott Foster by cell phone just prior to taking the court to officiate games, the investigation of Foster mysteriously stopped.
And later, as the disgraced Donaghy tried to become a whistle blower the NBA's don't ask don't tell policy tells you all you need to know about what the NFL attitude might be, should accusations of officiating corruption ever surface. The NBA's strategy with Donaghy was to control and contain public perceptions. It was not to seek the truth. Calls for criminal investigations of the NFL officials that worked the Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore game on January 15, 2011 will likely fall on deaf ears.
Any real sports fan could fairly conclude that Baltimore sowed the seeds of their own destruction in that particular playoff game. And in that honorable attitude, the great vulnerability of sports to gambling corruption operates. Where hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in gambling is involved, there is always a tendency to accept even the most puzzling officiating as mere "human error." And fans can always point to the losers in any contest and provide reasonable reasons why they lost.
It is true that each of the major professional sports leagues employs a team of so-called “investigators.” However, the idea that these multi-billion dollar enterprises are ever going to self-inflict wounds on their operations by suggesting the influence of gambling on their officials is a problem is doubtful. Accordingly we offer kudos to the FBI for exposing the fact that Tim Donaghy was cheating. And also for exposing the 2007 NBA Playoffs and those who bought over-priced seats at those games for what they were involved in.........a charade. The NFL should be next. --Jim Spence