Living With Blinders On: Cheating, Points-Shaving, and the Mob

I was listening to the “Best of the Jim Rome Show” on the radio the other day, and I caught his interview with Michael Franzese, a former member of the Colombo family.

This guy was a big time mob guy who, after serving time, has become a motivational speaker. At least, until whoever’s left of the Colombo’s gets a hold of him. Hopefully that won’t happen any day soon, because he gave an eye-opening interview.

Most of us know that the mob was (and probably still is) connected to gambling. And athletes and officials with a gambling problem or a debt are offered an “easy” way out. Just shave a few points, miss a few fouls, blow a few calls to cover the spred and your money problems are over.

According to Franzese, who enforced the collection of those debts, it was rampant throughout college and professional sports.

That brings up the question: just how naive are we, as sports fans?

You would think in the days of 24-hour sports networks, and a rampant, invasive media-driven culture we’d know all about any illegal actions and any gambling problems of every professional and high-profile college player.

But in the days of Internet gambling and athletes with more money than sense, do we even have a clue how many are involved with stuff like this?

Its like steroids in baseball, we know about the A-Rods and the Manny Ramirezes and the Barry Bonds, but exactly how rampant was the use of steroids and how many players are still using? There are a handful of guys you can look at in the majors today and say “these guys have never and will never use ‘roids“.

Guys like Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Michael Cuddyer, to name a few, have too much respect for the game to use steroids. Hopefully, guys like that are becoming the rule instead of the exception.

But if they were the exception, that means the rule was the steroid users. That’s more guys than the Mitchell Report, more guys than any who have come out and said anything, like Jose Canseco, and more records that are quite possibly tainted.

And no one knew this was going on?

If we expand that to other sports, how many Tim Donaghys are there still in the NBA? A foul can change the course of a game, and a single game can change the course of a player, team, coach or franchise. How many of them are out there and why hasn’t anyone noticed this before?

The same could be said in college basketball, the NCAA and the NFL. How many non-calls and phantom calls have been human error and how many have been to cover the spread?

Many NFL fans are still naive, they still have the blinders on. When the Patriots were caught video taping in 2007, many fans believe that New England was the only team unscrupulous enough to do that. Puh-lease. Get a clue. It’s a copy-cat league, and whether the action they are copying is legal or not, if it works, other teams will do it.

The only team I can say with some degree of certainty wasn’t doing that is probably the Colts. Aside from Tony Dungy, all coaches are that unscrupulous if it means they’ll win more games

It seems to me that the sports world still has more questions than answers when it comes to this sort of thing. It all falls under on category: cheating. And the cheating is usually tied to the money.

Players and officials may cheat for money, or to repay a debt they’ve accrued. Coaches and players cheat to get more wins or more homers or to recover faster from an injury. All of this revolves around the all-mighty dollar.

How long have we been walking around with blindfolds on? And the greatest question of all: how prevalent is it today?

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