Rick Tocchet is about to raise my blood pressure. Not because he's allegedly involved in a big time gambling operation that involves organized crime, but because his possible indiscretion is going to bring the whole gambling on sports issue back to the forefront. Honestly, that's something I just don't need.
As a sports fan since the mid-Seventies, I've had to accept a number of things. Expansion. Contraction. Teams changing cities. Big, big money contracts. Free agency. Salary caps. Players demanding to renegotiate contracts. Lockouts. Strikes. Lost seasons. Cheaters. The perpetual arrests. I've learned to deal with most of these things in a very constructive, patient and philosophical manner. Gambling on sports, however, I will never come to grips with.
I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gambling on sports. If I were commissioner, I'd enact league bylaws to prohibit all the players from any form of wagering. Old fashioned? Yes. Unconstitutional? Perhaps, but gambling is still illegal in many states, so maybe not. Stubborn? Ridiculous? Overreaching? Absolutely.
Why do I hold such an anti-gambling stance? I guess it's because I don't want there to be any indication that the sports we watch are contrived. I don't even want to consider the possibility that the miracles of sports history were, perhaps, not quite so miraculous. I don't want anyone to think that the player on their team that made a huge mistake or played poorly in the big game did so because he might owe his bookie money. When it comes to gambling, opening the door even a little bit is opening Pandora's Box.
This is why I am so angry at Tocchet. The charges about to be brought against him are only going to stir sports talk radio debate about gambling. They are going to be the subject of endless columns. They are going to bring Pete Rose back to the forefront. I can do without all three, the latter, in particular. (I'll save my complete thoughts on Rose's situation for another post, as it's a big subject, but let's just say I'm not in favor of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.)
Already, Frank Deford is wondering what all the fuss about gambling is for? (First two words in his piece? Pete Rose. Told you so.) After all, don't foreign lands use soccer results to determine lottery winnings? Yes, they do, Mr. Deford. The leagues openly condone and promote gambling on their sport as well. Did you also know that Germany just went through a huge scandal where referees were caught fixing soccer matches?
Do you know that a great many people think some foreign leagues, including some prominent ones, are fixed? That players don't always play quite as hard, especially late in the year? Do you know that most of the world still believes that when the U.S. team advanced in the last World Cup, the fix was in? Yeah, that open minded view of gambling has worked out real well.
Deford argues that other off-field problems should be a bigger concern. Sure, I'd love to see pro sports leagues go after players that beat their spouses, drive drunk or assault someone, but isn't that what our judicial system is supposed to do? The punishment for those missteps are not the league's jurisdiction, but few fans would argue if teams started to crack down on those players involved in such activity. Although, I suspect the ACLU might come knocking on their door.
When it comes to gambling, the general premise of the game is at stake. It's the league's primary job to keep their game away from such implications. If we took Deford's advice, don't you think most NFL fans would suspect the fix was in during the Super Bowl? I was rooting for the Steelers, but if I thought the league condoned gambling, even I might be tempted to think the refs might have money on the guys from Pittsburgh. Is that the kind of environment you desire?
Do we really want our pro leagues to start embracing gambling? Do we want to end up like international soccer fans, wondering if every blown call or bad play was unfortunate or predetermined? Do we want to wonder if every guy that misses a game is sitting out due to injury or is just doing someone a "favor"? Do we really want to even debate the legitimacy of gambling by our pro athletes? Thanks to Tocchet, we'll get no choice. The debate is on.