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The Sunday Sports Section August 19, 2007

NBA Scandal, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Michael Vick, Rick Tocchet, NHL Jerseys, Michael Peca

Under normal conditions, my interest in sports ranges from my deep fanaticism for the New York Rangers (and contempt for the other New York area hockey teams) to a long-lived loyalty for the Yankees and then to a fleeting interest in the New York Jets. However, the ridiculous sports news over the last few days makes me wonder how people can listen to sports talk radio for more than 20 minutes without developing a brain aneurism.

The sports pages in recent days reads more like a cross between a police blotter, a scandal sheet and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Without covering every arrest (Jose Offerman and his baseball bat attack), the NFL (National Felony League) and every non-news feature article, let’s look more closely at seven ongoing sports stories.

The NBA Betting Scandal

According to ESPN, former NBA official Tim Donaghy will reportedly give federal prosecutors information implicating twenty (20!) other referees in gambling activities as a part of his cooperation with government officials. Donaghy, who pleaded guilty on Thursday, Aug. 16, and was released on $250,000 bond, faces a maximum of 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 9 for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce.

Law and Order taught all of us about the value of uncorroborated accomplice testimony in a conspiracy, but this scandal serves as one more reason to turn off the NBA. The millions of dollars are thrown around the NBA as a result of exorbitant ticket prices, marketing agreements and television contracts,even though the NBA also has the smallest roster of any of the five major team sports in America. The resulting greed in the NBA is not only understandable, it is expected. The refs might as well grab their piece of the pie.

The end result of this scandal may not be completely predictable, but one must wonder if this is just the tip of the iceberg. How long have the referees been involved in these activities? How are fans supposed to have any respect for the outcomes of last season, and maybe even games from before last season? What playoff outcomes were affected? How much is NBA Commissioner David Stern going to make public from the investigation?

The NBA has been in a steady decline since the end of Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls. While the NBA may never achieve such success ever again, the betting scandal certainly won’t help its image.

Barry Bonds to Sue Curt Schilling

Barry Bonds hit his 760th career home run on Saturday, yet it was just over a week ago on August 7th when Bonds hit his 756th homer to break the great Hank Aaron’s record. However, an August 16th story on Yahoo! Sports states that Barry Bonds is planning to sue Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling for comments made to Bob Costas on the HBO program, Costas Now. Schilling apparently alluded to damaging testimony that may be forthcoming from Bonds’ former mistress, Kimberly Bell. According to his attorneys, Bonds presumably has not dealt with commentary and accusations alleging steroid use until now because he was busy chasing Aaron’s record and he thought it prudent to wait.

Bud Selig, Baseball’s Commissioner, used a press statement and Aaron used a video statement to acknowledge Bonds’ feat. Aaron’s move had more class than Bonds may have deserved, but Selig hit the nail on the head. Selig said, “While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement.” Everybody did their best to not detract from the value of the moment in the event that Bonds, who is innocent until proven guilty, is found to have not used steroids.

Opinions on Bonds’ alleged use of steroids vary from good to bad to indifferent. Under the best circumstances, most people might agree that Bonds probably used steroids but may question whether it should detract from the records he’s set. Others might argue that he did not take illegal steroids. Regardless, it seems prudent to withhold judgment but, now that the record is broken, let’s move forward in the investigation. Bonds, who must desperately want to prove his innocence, should agree to an expedited investigation. The public certainly deserves some answers.

In the meantime, steroids or not, Bonds may have beaten Hank Aaron’s numbers but, IMHO, he will never be half the ballplayer Aaron was. Aaron’s accomplishments come from a time when life was not easy for minority ballplayers. The pitching was far better and the ball wasn’t as lively as it is today. Stadiums were cavernous monuments, not today’s Little League fields masquerading as major league parks. Aaron’s record meant something to America back then because we understood the obstacles that Aaron overcame. The current indifference (other than the daily media frenzy up to Number 756) speaks volumes, and maybe Bonds and his attorneys should hear the deafening silence.

Jason Giambi Gets an Intentional Pass

An A.P. news story appearing on Yahoo! reported that Bud Selig decided not to punish Yankee slugger Jason Giambi for his admitted use of steroids. According to Selig, Giambi’s cooperation with Senator George Mitchell’s investigation of steroid use in baseball was the mitigating factor. Further, Giambi’s public service and charitable work were cited as positive factors in addition to Sen. Mitchell’s praise of Giambi’s candor. Giambi is the only active player to have spoken with Mitchell about steroid use to date.

As a Yankee fan, this is a little hard to swallow only because the outcry is not against Selig but those “damn Yankees” and George Steinbrenner for getting off the hook again. In Giambi’s defense, he is the only active player that has apologized to the fans and his teammates for his steroid use. The result of his recent admission, whether intentional or by accident, forced Giambi to go on the record about steroid use.

Regardless of how painfully slow it may be going, the steroid investigation keeps moving towards a conclusion. Maybe Giambi’s statements will help baseball end this controversy once and for all … and not soon enough!

Michael Vick & The Twilight Zone

I really don’t want to waste too much space on the Vick story itself. It is bizarre, twisted, and completely unworthy of the sensational news coverage it is getting. When the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) stepped into the Michael Vick case, it tried to set forth what should have been obvious from the start: Vick is innocent until proven guilty. Yet he has been vilified in the media across the United States. We are left to wonder what kind of coverage this story would have received if just a couple of ordinary guys in Arkansas or Wisconsin had done the same thing.

Vick is a high profile football player in Atlanta and the locals, as well as Americans everywhere, have seemingly convicted Vick for his alleged activities. The allegations against Vick come from three co-defendants who made plea agreements to testify against him. One has to believe that where there is smoke, there is fire. If the allegations can be substantiated by solid evidence at trial (not in the newspapers and media), we must wonder about the psychological make-up and cruelty of a person capable of such a ghoulish undertaking. We also have to wonder how widespread the practice is … unless you believe these four defendants invented this torture chamber by themselves.

Should our concerns run deeper? Since the NAACP’s intervention, there has appeared to be a backlash of racial bantering. Why anybody should resent the NAACP’s defense of Vick’s rights is beyond comprehension. As for claims that Vick’s prosecution is because he is black, such thinking is foolhardy. Has the story generated more interest because he is black? That is a question worthy of greater minds and better forums. Does Vick’s celebrity make the story newsworthy? The answer is probably no, but it is certainly a good reason to generate media coverage ad nauseum.

The questions that need an answer are much deeper. Granted, almost nobody would tolerate one iota of intentional cruelty to domesticated or wild animals. Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, implies that people tend to love animals more than they love other people (he says it when he explains how he bought his way onto the Board of The Bronx Zoo). It made me wonder if the same people screaming about Vick’s cruelty to dogs also protest abortion. How many protest war in general (the killing)? How many are against the death penalty? How many of these people are vegetarians? After all, what makes a dog better than any of God’s creatures? Do they put as much effort into ending death by starvation and AIDS in Africa?

Does this make you wonder where the media’s priorities are? How about our own priorities?

Tocchet’s Rocket Fizzles

Rick Tocchet, a former NHL star who played with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes, has been ordered to serve two years probation for his role in an illegal sports gambling ring. He could have been sentenced to up to five years in state prison but, in New Jersey, first-time offenders who plead guilty to third- or fourth-degree crimes usually escape jail time. While he was an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes under legendary Wayne Gretzky, Tocchet partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man in a sports betting venture they ran for five years.

The state trooper was sentenced to five years and the other defendant will be sentenced later this month. According to TSN, neither the Coyotes nor the NHL have made a decision about Tocchet returning to coaching. This is interesting because, as far as sports scandals go, Tocchet’s offenses almost fall off the radar. It will be interesting to see how the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman decide to handle Tocchet’s admitted guilt. Will there be a price to pay since Tocchet sullied Wayne Gretzky’s good name by accepting bets from his wife?

The New NHL Jerseys

Erin Nicks of the Ottawa Sun has captured the essence of the NHL’s new contract with Reebok in her story New Era Begins, and it is going to cost fans money (Sun. Aug. 19). The new contract for RBK EDGE jerseys, like the ones worn at last year’s All Star game, are lighter. However, many teams have also redesigned their logos or, like the Islanders, have refined their colors (oh, that horrible orange on black). The jerseys will be unveiled this Wednesday at an event called “A New Era Begins.”

The Ranger fan discussion board has been carrying pictures of the new sweaters for many teams this past week. Reaction, at the very best, has been mixed. As Nicks points out, hockey fans are already experiencing higher prices for tickets and cable packages like Center Ice. The new sweaters also carry a higher price tag. For people like me who bought eight personalized Ranger jerseys last season (and 14 over the last two seasons) as gifts or for personal use, all those jerseys are now out of date. My cherished Mark Messier “Liberty” jersey has become a reminder of an age gone by.

Thank God five of our six kids are in college or older. The 14-year-old girl, the fashion-conscious kid, is going to want a new one … after all, isn’t that what the NHL is promoting? Rather than make my own point, I think Erin Nicks says it so much better. She asks, “How much longer can NHL teams bleed their fans before a revolt occurs? How is such blatant gouging expected to appeal to league newcomers?” Well done, Erin. Bravo!

What is Michael Peca Doing?

I usually have very little to say one way or another about sports agents. They are a necessary evil in this day of multi-million dollar contracts and delicate player egos. Most people hate negotiating their own salary they feel that they never get what they really deserve. I spent years at The Blue Book of Building and Construction where anyone who suggested forming a union was fired out of hand for some reason concocted to meet the need. That’s why working as a teacher in the United Federation of Teachers is comforting … everyone is treated the same, based on tenure and education.

Ranger fans have been treated to a month-long spectacle involving unrestricted free agent Michael Peca. The conventional wisdom from most hockey writers is that the move should be a no-brainer and that the already-powerful Rangers will be that much better. Another school of thought makes you wonder why somebody like Peca, injuries notwithstanding, should still be available after the feeding frenzy for free agents that started July 1.

The most recent news is that Peca had his physical and has also met with Ranger coaches and management. Peca has been waging his own publicity campaign in New York through Daily News hockey writer John Dellapina. In the Wednesday, August 15th installment of this ongoing saga, Peca claims that Sather is interested but wasn’t ready to discuss contract terms. Peca remains hopeful that the talks will begin in earnest when Sather returns to New York next week.

However, according to an article in The Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, August 18, “Peca said … that he’d be willing to sign with the Blue Jackets, even though multiple reports have him on the verge of joining the New York Rangers.” Peca cited his praise for Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Scott Howson as good reasons to join Columbus. Considering Peca’s vehement claims that the only place he wants to play is with the Rangers, one must take his sincerity into question.

At the heart of this media blitz is Peca’s agent, Don Meehan. Many Ranger fans are fearful of Meehan because he is the agent for franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Although my position on Peca has been that I will go along with whatever Ranger management decides, many believe that we can win without him. However, Meehan is also carrying out his own publicity campaign through Dellapina, stating he “sensed” that the Rangers would like to have Peca.

One has to wonder if Meehan is squeezing the Rangers into this deal for Peca by dangling Lundqvist in front of them. Lundqvist signed a one-year contract after arbitration and it means the Rangers will have to negotiate all over again next year, beginning no sooner than January 1. One could also speculate that Sather is “helping” Meehan to generate interest for Peca by walking Peca through the “red carpet” treatment. Or, has Meehan been playing the Rangers for saps by using the media to sell his client elsewhere?

Ultimately, one can only hope that this story will end one way or the other this week.


3 Responses to “The Sunday Sports Section”

  1. sports betting gal Says:

    game fixing is a digusting proffession and spoils it for the genuine fans!

  2. 20 referees?!?! good greif thats an insane Level of corruption within the game. Throw the book at them I say.

  3. Hiya!. Thanks for the info. I’ve been digging around for info, but i think i’m getting lost!. Yahoo lead me here – good for you i guess! Keep up the great information. I will be popping back over in a couple of days to see if there is any more info.

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