Sports and its legacy of scandal

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 (This column was written June 8, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

Recently, many miles of media ink have been devoted to the cycling scandal and the attempt to link Lance Armstrong.  Also, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been front and center.  So, I decided to do a little exploration and, much to my amazement, I discovered that each generation in a variety of sports has had to deal with scandals.

At the basis of it all, GREED!

In baseball, probably the worst was when the Chicago White Sox became the Black Sox in 1919.  Here, on a mammoth scale, a gambler named Arnold Rothstein was able to get to almost an entire team, (eight members), and arrange to have them lose the World Series.  The benefactors were an organized group of gamblers. The worst victim was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.  A brilliant young ballplayer who was semi-literate, he ended up being banned for life.

This scandal brought about the appointment of Judge Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis as professional baseball's first commissioner.  Immediately, Judge Landis, although elected by the owners, was given a free hand to rule and he frequently used it to protect the integrity of the game. Even at one point bringing down his gavel and banning Bob Meusel, president of the Phillies, in 1943.  Today, it is different; we have a commissioner with limited power under the control of the owners.

Illegal gambling has always been a large problem in sports. As well as doping. No matter how great the name, no one was immune to the commissioner's wrath.  Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Pete Rose have all felt the wrath of this office. Today, doping fills the headlines.

College basketball has had more than its share of point shaving schemes. In the 1950's, the great CCNY team that won both the NCAA tournament and the NIT (which was more the important tournament at that time) was involved in a season of game fixing. The bettors did well, but the five players were banned for life. 

The CCNY coach at the time, the great Nat Holman, said if any of his boys fixed games, he would never coach again ... and he didn't. Basketball has seen many recent occurrences of this type of scandal in the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's and 1990's. 

Coaches are not immune to cheating, or looking the other way. In 1986, SMU boosters gave football players thousands of dollars from a "slush fund" with the knowledge of university administrators. A few weeks ago, Coach Jim Tressel of Ohio State, under attack for looking the other way while star players on his team accepted gifts of money and services, resigned.

 Many programs at the highest level are under scrutiny. USC was stripped of its 2004 national championship. With the Ohio State stigma, State's senior quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, has opted to forego his education and attempt to turn pro.  The tragedy is that, according to knowledgeable football men, scouts and coaches, he is not ready.  Therefore, the offshoot is he might never have a pro career and after three years of higher learning, he will have nothing to show for his efforts... i.e. no diploma.

The NFL also has not been immune. It too has had more than its share of doping allegations and steroid use... and since 2007; the public has been privy to the off-field antics of many players and their involvement with law enforcement.  Notably, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Tank Johnson, "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry come quickly to mind. When I was a kid, the champion New York Giants football team and its quarterback Frankie Filchock was suspended by the NFGL from 1947 -1950.

Ice hockey, pro basketball and pro soccer have been far from untouched by gambling and rigging of votes.  In 2006, Operation Slapshot was an investigation into gambling ring operated by a NHL assistant coach.

In soccer, there have been many times when officials have been caught in the middle of controlling the games to benefit either personal betting, or in association with organized gambling.  It happens at the highest level in Italy, Greece, England and even Brazil. Today, even Sepp Blatter, recently re-elected president of FIFA, soccer's governing body, is still operating under a cloud of impropriety.

What about pro basketball?  In 2007, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was under investigation for betting on league games, including some in which he worked. Which reminds us of the on-going controversial decision to ban Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader (4256), from ever being involved in organized baseball and despite his great hits record, omitted from the Hall of Fame. His crime: gambling on games, many in which he was the manager of one of the teams.

Motorsport has not escaped the evil ogre of scandal.  How about in 2008 when Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr was accused of deliberately crashing in the Singapore Grand Prix to help his Renault F1 teammate Fernando Alonzo win.  Hell, in 2007,a year earlier, in Formula One, Stepneygate came about when Scuderia Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney passed on secret documents to Mike Coughlan of McLaren.

So, why have I written this column?  I only touched the surface of scandals.  Yearly, in all sports there are countless.  All of the scandals have one common thread... to get an advantage with the express purpose of monetary reward.

How can we control it?  I don't know!  However, if you have ever read Karl Marx Communist Manifesto, it actually made sense.  Now, I am not a Communist, never was, never will be! Nevertheless, I have read Marx's thesis.  I feel sure Sarah Palin and I share this distinction. However, it is easy to see why the Manifesto never worked.


Does anyone have an answer?  Unfortunately, like so many things in today's society, sports too are broken.

In my earliest days as an announcer during the 1940's ... a sleepier. simpler, more innocent, less complicated time, I would end my broadcast with the phrase, "Keep a boy in sports and he stays out of courts."

How wrong could I have been?

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Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.