Gambling it all away
Not all jobs are created equally. Some are simply more enjoyable than others. I grew up on a farm doing some tasks that would make Mike Rowe, host of the show "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel, cringe in disgust. I have also had the pleasure of spending a summer riding on a charter bus to various Midwest ballparks to announce baseball games on the radio. For me, those jobs were on opposite ends of the enjoyability spectrum.
Many jobs are more important to society than those in the sports industry, but not all of them give the people who perform them a chance to do something they love. Having the opportunity to make a living off of sports is something for which most people in the industry are thankful.
I first learned that lesson when I did a summer internship at a sports radio station in Denver. I was the assistant for the producer of the morning show. He came to work every morning by 4 and was there until just before noon. He had a somewhat technically demanding job to make sure that the morning ran smoothly. He also had to arrange for the guests on the show and coordinate the schedule with the on-air talent. He was a college graduate and was very good at his job.
He also earned just a shade above minimum wage. The station limited his time to just under 40 hours a week, so he wasn't eligible for benefits. Consequently, he worked at night as a waiter so he could pay the bills. Why do you do it, I asked him. Why do you get up hours before anyone should ever have to in order to come here to work?
He didn't even ponder my query. "Work? This isn't work. I am just happy to be here."
I have encountered that attitude every place I have been since. An unfortunate consequence of that philosophy is that many behind the scenes workers in the sports industry are woefully under-compensated for the amount of work that they do. But it is all about supply and demand. There are countless potential employees who are anxiously awaiting any opportunity to get into the industry. Those of us who have had the opportunity to earn a living off of sports are lucky.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy forgot that lesson. Federal prosecutors claim Donaghy bet on more than 100 games that he worked, the New York Daily News reported last Saturday. Donaghy was fired by the NBA after pleading guilty last year to charges of wire fraud and transmitting betting information across state lines, a violation of federal law. In a court filing, prosecutors detailed Donaghy's betting activity that began in 2003 and continued for three seasons.
"The government's investigation revealed that Donaghy provided picks for anywhere from 30 to 40 games for each of those three seasons," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Goldberg said in a letter filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.
One of the greatest things about sports is that anything can happen once the competition begins. The outcome is completely undetermined. The actions allegedly taken by Donaghy chuck that notion aside. As an official, he was entrusted with upholding one of the most important pillars of sport. Donaghy was lucky to have that job, and somewhere along the line, he lost track of that.
It would be naive to think Donaghy is the only person with insider access who is betting on sports. From Pete Rose and baseball to the basketball point shaving at Arizona State to the recent football scandal at Toledo, gambling stories continue to rise to the surface. There is serious money that can be made by checking your scruples at the locker room door. It can be tantalizing, especially for collegiate athletes who have little money or for officials who earn a tiny fraction of the money made by the professional athletes they are charged with officiating.
Which is why when Donaghy next appears in court on July 14 for sentencing, his punishment must include jail time. His lawyers have lobbied for leniency since he turned over the names of the gamblers he informed. They believe he should only be fined and not incarcerated.
That's not good enough for me. Donaghy, who repeatedly did something he knew to be wrong, jeopardized the entire integrity of the game. The punishment for that must be stiff. It should strike fear into the heart of any player or official who considers betting on a game. It should be a deterrent and not merely a slap on the wrist. Keeping the outcome of sporting events free from predetermination is crucial to maintaining their integrity. Take that away and you are left with professional wrestling.
Jobs in sports can be a lot of work. But they can also be extremely fun. It is a privilege to get paid for doing something you love. Donaghy forgot how fortunate he was and gambled away his career. I can only hope that his follies serve as a cautionary tale to others who may be tempted to wander down that treacherous trail.
* Pilot-Tribune columnist Nick Huber is the former sports information director at Buena Vista University, and consumate sports fan. He is currently battling Lou Gerrig's Disease.