Monday, December 7, 2009

Tim Donaghy Blows the Whistle on NBA;Referees

Sunday, disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was recently released from federal prison after serving 11 months of a 1-year jail sentence for actions related to betting on NBA games and passing along insider information to mob contacts spoke to the CBS program 60 Minutes.

Donaghy is reported to have picked accurately on 70%-80% of his selections, amassing a personal profit of over $100,000 while the mob netted $1-2 million, a conservative estimate as proffered by the FBI.

Donaghy alleges that he was able to pick games so successfully because of his knowledge of personal preferences that certain referees had towards certain players, coaches, general managers, and owners. He reportedly was also privy to "gossip" that circulated inside the referee's locker room about player injuries and habits that had the potential to affect the outcome of the game.

In one scenario, Donaghy explains how NBA referees entered into a cabal against Sixers all-star point guard Allen Iverson after he threatened one of their officials. They were going to "teach him a lesson". Video footage of games in which Allen Iverson played, both during the end of his tenure with the Sixers and early in his time with the Denver Nuggets shows officials failing to call fouls on plays where Iverson drives to the basket and incurs sometimes hard contact.

In another situation, the Los Angeles Lakers forwarded a cd of 25 plays in which they felt NBA officals failed to call fouls when star guard Kobe Bryant drove to the basket. The NBA reviewed the cd and found that 22 of the 25 calls in question had been missed and forwarded a memo to that effect to the NBA referees. The result was an increase of calls in Bryant's favor and an increase in his free throw attempts down the stretch of the 2007-2008 season.

Donaghy also accused the NBA of purposely extending playoff series because it increased viewership and revenue. He says that these actions were particularly prevalent in large media markets such as Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.

It is certainly admissable to take everything that Donaghy says with a grain of salt. He is a convicted felon who committed the cardinal sin of not only basketball, but all organized sports -- betting on games especially games that one has the potential to have a direct and immediate impact on.

However, Donaghy comes from an extensive officiating lineage, his dad having been a NCAA referee for over 25 years. His wife divorced him shortly after his indictment and took custody of their 4 young girls. He will likely live out the remainder of his life in witness protection and with the distinct possibility that the next time that he steps out of his home may be the last. Donaghy fully cooperated with an FBI investigation, an investigation that was corroborated and confirmed by an independent investigation conducted by the office of NBA commissioner David Stern. Stern called Donaghy a rogue NBA referee that acted alone in his transgressions but, in light of their support of the FBI investigation, that seemed more like a public relations diversion than a statement of fact.

As we enter the last month of the NFL season, the FBS prepares for the yearly extravaganza that is bowl season, and the NBA and collegiate basketball schedules hit full stride, fans should keep at least one critical eye on the accuracy of the officiating. Sports in America has always been part spectacle and part amazing feats of mental and physical strength and agility summoned by the world's greatest competitors in the toughest of environments.

I may be one of the many millions of sports fanatics mired in naivety but it is the basic principle that rules and regulations tempered and administered by the blind reasoning of the men and women charged with upholding neutrality on the turf or parque floor and NOT bold-faced prejudice and revengeful collusion that should decide whether athletes, coaches, personnel, and owners have the opportunity to embrace victory on any given night that serves as the foundation of the modern sports-industrial complex.

Without these assurances, our favorite pastimes become no more meaningful than a WWE wrestling event and the reverence that we hold for our modern day gladiators and their neo-heroic feats, as evidenced by our viewership and our dollars, are nothing more than most severe forms of idolatry.

Those who stand by in silence as a fraudulent farse is perpetuated for immense profit are not as guilty as Tim Donaghy, they are more guilty and they should and will have their day of judgement in the court of public opinion.

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