Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Doubting What I am sure of

At the end of the day it’s about trust.

We trust our parents, our spouses, our children, our closest friends, and when that blind trust is broken, it shakes our world.

What Bruce Springsteen wrote 20 years ago stands true today: “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.”

There is less and less to be sure of today, we don’t trust our government, we doubt our spouses, our kids, our parents lied about the whole Santa thing, Brad and Jen were supposed to be forever, and now there are whispers of trouble in the land of Brad and Angelina.

All we could be sure of was sports, where the athletes strived for glory, and outside of a few untrustworthy French figure skating judges, those who were paid to mediate the contests, were honest and true.

Naivety meet Tim Donaghy, the crooked referee. (Allegedly the crooked referee, only Nancy Grace can get by without saying that, no matter what the facts before us are.)

Unless you have been in a coma, or your Google search for the Pillsbury Doughboy has gone horribly awry and you are on a sports site for the first time in your life, you know that Donaghy had placed bets on basketball games, some of which he worked, with bookies controlled by the underworld, and not being Tony Soprano with a deep pocketed friend like Hesch to bail him out, traded his professionalism and reputation for workable kneecaps, and began making calls, or not, during games, to control the points spread, and, as John Sayles, as Ring Lardner, sang in his own Eight Men Out “The gamblers treat you fair.”

The first question I had, when learning that Donaghy was front and center at the league’s previous worst nightmare, the Pacers v. Pistons brawl leading to the Ron Artest meltdown, was what if Donaghy had money on this game? What if it was on the Pacers? What if he allowed Artest to manhandle Ben Wallace through out until Wallace had enough and took a swing at Artest precipitating the brawl and suspensions?

When a police officer is found to be accepting graft, all the felons he testified against are freed because his testimony is tainted. Do Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O’Neil get the salaries they lost during the suspension back because the street cop was dirty? Do Artest and Jackson have a case that Donaghy’s crooked officiating led to their suspensions, which adversely affected their lives causing them to do further bad deeds, leading to their current suspensions? When cops go bad total Tools like Jackson and Artest walk. Should it be any different for a referee?

If this scandal were going to happen, then it would be in basketball. A home plate umpire has a great deal of control over the outcome of a game, but if he is deliberately making one-sided calls it would be easy to see, and he would not keep his job for long. Plus, even with making bad calls, he can’t control bad pitching and good hitting.

In football a referee can sway the game with penalties, but still won’t be able to stop a Manning to Harrison hookup, and if he tried to, instant replay would reverse it.

Maybe an official could fix a soccer or hockey game, but if you are betting on that, buddy you have problems.

Its basketball, with its rapid movement, its high scoring, the gray area of what is a charge and what is blocking, where whistles in the right direction can change a few baskets here and there, where the scandal would inevitably occur.

And it could go largely unnoticed. We are not talking about throwing a game here, where Lebron James doesn’t get the foul call in Game Three of the finals and the Cavaliers lose. We’re talking about James not getting the call on a last second shot with his team down five and getting four in the spread. James may bitch about not getting his two, but the game was lost, and the coaches will file off the court with nary a complaint.

If the underworld only persuaded (allegedly, Nancy) Donaghy to effect games that had spreads of 10 points or more, then his undermining of the athletes on the floor would have slipped by as just incompetent officiating, a group that could fill the first row of seats behind the basket. If the Lakers are 14-point favorites over the Grizzlies, unless the Memphis entry is on fire that night, how difficult is it to make sure they lose by 15?

But I believe in the butterfly effect as it relates to the NBA. If Pau Gasol can’t get a call from Donaghy because he has money on the Lakers, does this affect his next non-Donaghy involved game? Does he play more aggressively because he didn’t get calls the previous games? Are those calls made against him? Does he get in early foul trouble? Do the Grizzlies lose? Does this loss affect the playoffs? The lottery? Donaghy may not have affected the victors in games he officiated, but how many games did the ripple effect of his work affect?

And how did a guy who is, at best, considered a mediocre official by the NBA, and who has, been identified by several individuals as being an asshole (inevitably, after this scandal, a noun and adverb will be added to that nom-de-plume) get to referee game three of the Spurs-Suns series, the defacto NBA championship?

I know the union contract says that these assignments should go by a rotating basis, but if the playoffs contenders are based on performance and not rotation, then shouldn’t the players be given the same courtesy?

Did Donaghy have money on that game? Did he let fouls go against the Spurs making them more frustrated each minute? Did Nash get away with several slaps during the game? Did Robert Horry wait until the closing moments of Game 4 to retaliate, causing Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw’s suspensions? Did Donaghy’s gambling problems affect who won the 2007 title?

There are a thousand more questions to come about Donaghy’s involvement in games and their aftermath, and no way for David Stern to answer them all before the opening tap.

What Donaghy has done is made us question every call. On Friday night Tim McClelland badly missed a JD Drew homerun call (Yo, John Henry, paint the ledge yellow), after a few calls went against the Sox on previous days, bad thoughts began to creep in, like the umpires are under pressure to let the Yankees back in the race. (My Father, a well-respected and intelligent man, always said that Yankees had more home games than any other team, a sure sign of what Yankee paranoia can do to a man.)

Umpires and referees are used to being told they are blind, that they suck, and they roll with that, but no one wants their integrity questioned.

Now, thanks to Tim Donaghy, not only will paranoid fans say it, but rational fan, will think it.

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