It has been interesting to see how other sports—including organized leagues like the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball—have dealt with recent scandals, particularly in comparison to Thoroughbred racing’s efforts to clean up the drug mess that currently plagues our game.
The NBA, whose popularity has been on decline since Michael Jordan took his last jump shot as a member of the Chicago Bulls, is faced with what may be the biggest challenge in its history. The shocking charges alleging that referee Tim Donaghy was neck deep in illegal wagering, including betting on games he officiated, goes right to the core of that sport’s integrity. There are questions about many games he officiated, including contests deep into the NBA playoffs.
This would be akin to a racetrack steward betting on a race, having his horse finish second, and then disqualifying the winner in order to cash a ticket. To my knowledge, no racing official has ever been charged with influencing the outcome of a race in such a way, but it’s all the more reason to ensure that stewards are prohibited from gambling.
David Stern, who guided the NBA out of the drug-plagued 1970s to the height of popularity during the Jordan era, acted swiftly when news of the 20-month FBI investigation of the referee gambling scandal was made public. Needless to say, Donaghy is no longer employed by the NBA, and as Stern learns more details in this case it’s expected he will act decisively to try and put this scandal in the past and identify it as an isolated incident—thus saving his own job. The NBA’s investigation shouldn’t just focus on referees. Stern will need to put the microscope on the league office and determine whether there were signs of the scandal it missed.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has had multiple challenges on the job during his first year after replacing Paul Tagliabue—most of it due to bad off-the-field behavior by players, several of whom have spent time in jail. But the dogfighting indictment of Michael Vick, the star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, makes the assortment of weapons, drug, and DUI charges among players pale by comparison. Members of animal rights organizations already have picketed in front of the NFL and Falcons offices.
Following the indictment, Goodell told Vick not to bother reporting to training camp, and further instructed the Falcons’ front office not to discipline Vick until the NFL fully reviews the charges against him. Interestingly, even if Vick is found innocent, the NFL has a “personal conduct policy” that may be enforced against Vick. In addition, Vick’s multimillion-dollar endorsement contracts are expected to go down the drain.
The Tour de France has been so scandal-plagued and paralyzed in dealing with performance-enhancing substances that within the last year, sponsors and owners have taken the extraordinary step of kicking bicyclists off their teams if they even suspect blood-doping or other forms of cheating. One of those sent packing was Michael Rasmussen, who led during the early stages of this year’s Tour and was considered one of the favorites. Wouldn’t it be nice if racehorse owners gave the boot to trainers caught cheating?
Major League Baseball is the laughingstock of professional sports because of its head-in-the-sand reaction to the steroids-bloated home run records established over the last 15 years. Commissioner Bud Selig has been an embarrassment to the sport in dealing with the issue.
Racing has no commissioner, so when a substance, possibly cobra venom, was found in a trainer’s barn a month ago, as alleged in published reports about Patrick Biancone, there is no swift and decisive action, only inaction. While the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority fiddles over when to schedule a hearing and deal with these troubling charges, Biancone continues to train horses as if nothing has happened.
Talk about a laughingstock.