NBA Gambling Scandal: Tim Donaghy Just Another Part of Today's Sport's Culture

The fact that NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to two felony charges for fixing NBA games should come as no surprise. What it really says about all sports leagues, however, may surprise some.The first thing that must be understood about Donaghy's admission of guilt is that he understands that he has a gambling problem. For Tim Donaghy and his family this is terrific news. The old adage is that you cannot free yourself from an issue until you admit that there is an issue in the first place. Without a doubt, Tim Donaghy is doing exactly that with his admission. I, as well as many other individuals who know or have had to deal with family members with extreme compulsive gambling issues, wish Donaghy and his family all the best.

For Donaghy, this is actually a positive event. Once he serves whatever prison sentence the federal government dishes to him, he will be able to hopefully rebuild his life without the ninety pound elephant that is compulsive gambling on his back. Any one who cares about Donaghy must realize that things could have gone much worse for the referee and that only two felony charges, a fine, and a sure to be small prison sentence is nothing compared to what might have happened to him if he had kept fixing games and gambling.

No, it's not Donaghy who will bear the brunt of this issue. It's the NBA. The NBA, no matter what some sports pundits may say, is in a precarious position. The reason is that the NBA has failed to think about why Donaghy found himself fraternizing with shady underworld figures over six point basketball games in the first place.

For the NBA to say that Tim Donaghy is an isolated maverick is absolutely ridiculous. The NBA, more than almost any other sports league, values its players on glitz and glamour, not on actual game play. For every Tim Duncan that the NBA forces stardom on to, there are about ten Allen Iverson's who seek the diamond studs and money and cars that comes with being an NBA player.

That's not a knock against Iverson or even the NBA, really. The NBA understands that to succeed it must create stars and what are stars, in the end, but celebrities?

It is this celebrity culture in which Tim Donaghy found himself. Where there are celebrities, there is money, where there is money in a sport, gamblers are sure to follow.

Gambling is as much a part of the any sports league as the players. This isn't to say that it's right or wrong, but it is to say that it is accepted that every major newspaper in the nation will print football and basketball lines. Or, that office pools throughout the country, although illegal, suddenly come right out and into the open during the NFL season.

The reason for this is simple. Gambling, at the end, is about money. It might mean something else to the compulsive gambler, but to the folks who paid Donaghy $5,000 when his picks came through, it was all about money. It's fun to gamble because it's fun to win money.

The NBA is a money league and it promotes this idea of cash as king through its never ending fight to generate more celebrities. It's no stretch to believe that Tim Donaghy isn't the only NBA referee who has had coded conversations with shady, back-room, sports enthusiasts. As one tout service running football handicapper explained to me on a cold morning, "Do you know how easy it is to call holding on an NFL play?" The same could be said to calling soft fouls against players in the lane in the NBA.

Fixing games takes little effort, the money is easy and there's a lot of it. For anyone to believe that Tim Donaghy is the exception, and not the norm, hasn't been paying attention to American sports.

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