Monday, July 23, 2007

The FBI: The new sports commission?

[Editor's note: this article appears on the Huffington Post beginning 7/23]

There have been a lot of instances recently of misbehavior within the major sports leagues. The biggest ones have been unearthed by investigators outside of those leagues. When are the commissioners going to start paying more attention?

Most recently, the FBI revealed an investigation involving an NBA referee who was found to be betting on games, including ones he was officiating, to pay off gambling debts. NBA commissioner David Stern made a statement saying that there is only one referee under investigation, yet law enforcement officials claim that more arrests are to be expected. Is Stern playing the public relations game, or is he that out of touch with what is going on in his own league? If there are additional referees implicated in the near future, I think it would prove the latter.

The fact that there was a problem to begin with was evident in the sports world’s reaction to the news. While the league showed surprise in the revelation, fans and players showed the opposite, throwing out guesses as to which ref was involved. The fact that there were multiple justified “guesses” means that the problem doesn’t lie with this one ref. So is it possible that the fans know more about what’s going on within the league than its own governing body does? Absolutely.

And the NBA is not alone. Major League Baseball didn’t start taking notice of their own steroids problem until federal investigators got involved. Barry Bonds continued to get unnaturally bigger and hit more and more homeruns, yet MLB commissioner Bud Selig turned his head. It wasn’t until outside sources revealed the BALCO scandal and a federal grand jury got involved that Stern decided to start making statements. And even still he hasn’t made any disciplinary decisions. He’s taking the easy way out by waiting for the grand jury to make an indictment before taking a stance while Bonds inches closer to breaking baseball’s biggest record. Had Selig been paying attention long before, he could have handled the investigation within the league and made a disciplinary decision himself. What happened instead was an embarrassment to baseball.

The sports commissioners need to regain the control they are losing over their leagues. The NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell, while not popular for his strict discipline, is at least taking steps to keep the players and coaches under control. As a second year commissioner he has some inconsistencies to iron out, but the other league heads could take a lesson from his courage to take a stand. If the commissioners don’t start paying more attention to what’s going on within their own organizations, the results will continue to embarrass the leagues, alienate the fans, and provide more opportunities for outside investigations.


Sooze said...

Great post, Sarah. Incredibly insightful! All this Donaghy business makes me sick, and the steroids thing... well I think I've desensitized myself.

MCBias said...

I think a key as well is that all 3 "big" sports leagues have never been in better financial health, from my perspective. The international market is exploding right now and bringing in lots of additional cash. The problem is, I think that the 3 sports commissioners have been wary of doing anything that might affect that flow of cash. But it's easier to fix things now rather than when the FBI has to fix it for you.