Friday, July 20, 2007

Tim Donaghy's Point Shaving: Putting Things in Perspective [J. Mark English]

Tim Donaghy's name, if proven guilty, can share the same legendary status as the 1919 Black Sox, and Pete Rose.

The Sox and Rose damaged the sport they played more then any drug user or thug could ever hope. When players, coaches, and referees bet on games they crush to pieces an unspoken covenant that is shared between fan and participant. This covenant represents a promise that what we see is real. Sports are not fiction, nor fantasy. Instead it is a tangible, and actual thing where then ending is unknown to both viewer and athlete right down to the final out, the final whistle, the final horn, until the fat lady sings.

When Michael Jordan hit his famous last second shot against the Utah Jazz in the 98 NBA Finals, what we saw was real. Or so we were led to believe. Now, thanks to Tim Donaghy, doubt will creep in during every past or present moment in the NBA. Our hope is that the Jordan shot was not orchestrated by an NBA exec trying to conjure up the best ending for the best financial result. Our hope is that what we were watching was pure drama occurring in real time. We hope that it was not a puppet show, and puppeteers were deceiving us before our own eyes.

If Tim Donaghy is found guilty of point shaving, he will hurt the NBA's credibility. The trust between the fans, and the game of basketball will have to be earned once again through time. It is important for us to take a step back and realize that if basketball is such a great game, then it survive this turmoil that it is about to be thrown into. As the tempest nears, the game will go on.

Baseball is an example of a sport that has persevered and moved on. Baseball is alive and well now with record attendance across the country, and TV ratings that most other leagues would die for. But it was not so long ago when many thought that the national past time had run its course. In 1989 it was hit with the Pete Rose scandal, in which it was found he bet on baseball.

At the time, baseball commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, tried to bring calmness to a time of incalculable harm to the game. He gave a moving speech when he announced the banishment of Pete Rose by saying:

I believe baseball is a beautiful and exciting game, loved by millions - I among them - and I believe baseball is an important, enduring American institution. It must assert and aspire to the highest principles - of integrity, of professionalism of performance, of fair play within its rules. It will come as no surprise that like any institution composed of human beings, this institution will not always fulfill its highest aspirations. I know of no earthly institution that does. But this one, because it is so much a part of our history as a people and because it has such a purchase on our national soul, has an obligation to the people for whom it is played - to its fans and well-wishers - to strive for excellence in all things and to promote the highest ideals.

I will be told that I am an idealist. I hope so. I will continue to locate ideals I hold for myself and for my country in the national game as well as in other of our national institutions. And while there will be debate and dissent about this or that or another occurrence on or off the field, and while the game's nobler parts will always be enmeshed in the human frailties of those who, whatever their role, have stewardship of this game, let there be no doubt or dissent about our goals for baseball or our dedication to it. Nor about our vigilance and vigor - and patience - in protecting the game from blemish or stain or disgrace.

The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed. It will be debated and discussed. Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game.

The same should be said for basketball. The NBA will survive this blemish. It will suffer yes, and there will be pain for those involved. It will bounce back however, and it will thrive.