Should gambling on professional sports get an athlete banned for life?

22 Jan

Athletes, coaches, managers, and officials that bet on their sport should receive a permanent ban for their actions. At the heart of sports integrity is key. If we as fans cannot believe there is a level playing field and that any team or individual can win on any given day there is no reason to shell out money to watch games. An athlete gambling on his own sport is a greater danger to the health of the game than even the much ballyhooed steroids in sports scandal.

 The big problem with gambling, not just a persons own team (Or self in individual sports) is it often leads to fixing the outcome of an event. While some may say it’s no big deal to bet on yourself to win it is a huge problem. It opens Pandora’s box. It makes it an easy step into throwing maybe just one game for some quick money. Betting on other athletes is just as bad. It is too easy in many sports to influence the outcome covertly through any number of surreptitious means.

It is quite easy to point to the infamous Black Sox Scandal in which gamblers paid off eight White Sox players to throw the world series. Some of these players used their payoffs from the gamblers to place bets against themselves through proxies to further boost their ill-gotten booty. It took nothing short of perhaps the greatest baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth, revolutionizing the game to save the league and give it the opportunity to grow. Pete Rose is another well known example. Rose as manager and as player/manager of the Reds placed bets on baseball including his own team. For years he argued he never did any such thing but finally some fifteen years later confessed he in fact did. He was adamant that when he bet on his team it was always to win but that can never be proved and is irrelevant. Betting on games is baseballs greatest offense.

Baseball is not however the only sport blackened by gambling among it’s athletes. In 1963 Paul Hornung and Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions were suspended from football indefinitely for betting on NFL games. Both were reinstated a year later but under strict conditions to avoid all forms of gambling legal or otherwise and in Karras’s case to sell a bar he owned linked to sports betting as well. No other players in the NFL have been suspended on gambling charges since which points to the notion the NFL may have this problem under control or that those betting on games have gotten more discrete.

Robert Hoyzer was a soccer referee that fixed matches during the 2005 Bundesliga scandal.

Hoyzer had ties to Croatian organized crime figures whom he not only fixed games for but bet on games through. Tim Donaghy was similarly involved in a betting scandal and game fixing in the NBA and was like Hoyzer barred from officiating for life at the professional level. When it comes to officials it seems betting and game fixing go hand in hand. In both cases it is at least theorized but not yet legally proved both began fixing games to cover gambling debts, and then began betting on games they were fixing.

 Paolo Rossi was involved in a famous soccer betting scandal and was barred for three years although the sentence was later reduced to only two years. It later came to light that these charges might be false as one person involved admitted such. Still the matter is unresolved definitively over a quarter century later and may always remain so. Until then many if not all matches he competed in are considered tainted.

In March 2004 the International Cricket Council brought charges against Maurice Odumbe for match fixing. Odumbe was found guilty and banned from cricket for five years. Nikolay Davydenko was linked to fixing matches recently in tennis as well as Philipp Kohlschreiber. Potito Starace, Daniele Bracciali, and Alsip Di Mauro all received bans for betting on other players matches but not their own.

In many sports, especially those such as tennis, cricket, the NHL, and soccer, betting seems to be the biggest problem. These sports do not however generally hand out lifetime bans for betting on games, five years is about the longest I’ve seen and many times these are reduced on appeal. As a fan it’s hard to not watch these sports and believe everything is legitimate. You get the impression that a slap on the wrist is about as far as the leagues are willing to go and the games integrity is never restored, especially when the offenders reactivate their careers. Even American football suffered a black eye after the Karras/Hornung reinstatement as many felt they should remained banned and it took several years for many fans to let go of that stigma. Baseball which has handed down severe penalties in the past betting scandals doesn’t seem to have as big a problem if any at all. Consider in baseball it’s been twenty years without a betting scandal and only two in ninety years. The message sent is you bet, you lose. The games integrity has not suffered.

Lifetime bans work. They are the ultimate deterrent. Why would an athlete risk losing potentially tens of millions of dollars in contract and endorsement money plus legal problems. Temporary bans are not a solution. The offender gets caught, kowtows a bit, and comes right back in a year or two. A little poorer but definitely not without their livelihood. For a big enough payday they may be willing to try betting again as they can assume no substantial punishment will follow if caught. In short betting in sports is like cancer, when it’s found you cut it out and investigate everything around the infection, you don’t place a band aid over the area and invite it back for round two.

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