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BOHANNON ISN'T ONE ROGUE GAMBLER — SPORTS IS FILLED WITH SUCH RATS
A betting-happy industry hails the reckless case of the fired Alabama baseball coach as a panacea, but in truth, it’s easier than ever for people in sports to use inside information for financial gain
The mobs that defend legalized gambling — and my use of the m-word is intentional — will cite the Alabama baseball scandal as progress. They’ll note how quickly regulators responded in multiple states last week when coach Brad Bohannon, having scratched ace pitcher Luke Holman because of “back tightness,” tried to cash in by informing a co-conspirator who placed two ample bets on LSU to beat the Crimson Tide.
See, the mobs will shout, scandals can’t infiltrate the sanctity of sports.
That the activity happened in the BetMGM Sportsbook at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where the Reds play and where Pete Rose once bet on his team’s games at a since-dismantled stadium next door, will be hailed as a reason why wagering in stadiums and arenas isn’t so evil, either. Surveillance video worked, they’ll say. A Las Vegas monitoring firm alerted the Southeastern Conference successfully, they’ll say, while highlighting the SEC’s long-term deal with U.S. Integrity as an example of a highly efficient watchdog relationship. Bohannon was promptly fired, they’ll point out, as life goes on in an American sports betting market that contributes almost $400 billion annually to this nation’s gross domestic product.
Said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, triumphantly: “The University of Alabama has taken swift action after information about baseball sports wagering activity was questioned by industry regulators. Ensuring the integrity of athletic competition is our highest priority, and for that purpose the SEC monitors gambling activity ... There must be zero tolerance for activity that puts into question the integrity of competition.”
Here’s what the mobs won’t say: Hardly anyone bets on college baseball, making it much easier to spot funny business in progress. And few fixers are as reckless as Bohannon, who communicated directly with a bettor at a big-league park — instead of a friend of a friend of an acquaintance in South Dakota — as he made one parlay wager and one straight-up bet on a game Alabama would lose, 8-6, though not before a late rally that must have shaken a coach whose team didn’t lay down like the 1919 Black Sox. This was an easy flagging for the pro-gambling crowd, which consists of every major sports league, every media network invested in sports, every casino worth its dirty dice and every sleazy executive who sees money signs when some of us see only the fields, courts, rinks, tracks and courses of sacred competition.
So please don’t join them in celebrating Bohannon’s capture as a panacea. Don’t let one sloppy gambit by two reckless stooges dim the ever-present red alerts — the perpetual potential for gambling scandals that always will threaten sports integrity. What stops anyone connected to leagues and teams in high-volume betting sports (NFL, college football, NBA) from using inside information to take advantage financially? U.S. Integrity and similar firms can’t monitor everything, and like a goaltender facing too many pucks from all directions, some shots are bound to get past them. Anyone who thinks Bohannon’s futile stab was a rarity isn’t paying attention in 2023, five years after the Supreme Court freed states to legalize sports betting. Illegal activity is ripe to happen constantly, on an app such as FanDuel, which said it didn’t take one bet on the LSU-Alabama baseball game. When large wagers come in on, say, a momentous NFL game, the regulators don’t blink and alerts aren’t automatically triggered. There’s simply too much to oversee.
Without considering consequences, the Supreme Court greased turnstiles to facilitate a Wild Wild West gold rush. I worked in a city, Chicago, that provided regular examples of how sports can be exploited by well-placed opportunists. Bryan Harlan, public relations director of the Bears and son of the Green Bay Packers president at the time, resigned after a federal investigation found his phone number in a bookmaker’s telephone records. “Harlan acknowledged that he violated our league policy on gambling,” said Paul Tagliabue, then the NFL commissioner. “It’s the integrity of the game. When we have the kind of competition we do have and competition that features integrity, we have to enforce it strictly. We know athletes can be tempted in the wrong direction, and so can officials around the game.”
What stops an official, athlete, coach or referee from making a bet today, armed with inside information like Bohannon? Unlike Harlan, one needn’t call a bookie to capitalize. Just have someone else use a gambling app. One evening at the United Center, the official clock mysteriously stopped for a few ticks near the end of a tightly contested Bulls game in the dynasty years. Was it an electrical glitch? Or hanky-panky? I asked the crew members, who insisted nothing sinister was behind the stoppage. But again, what stops a crew today from a similar ruse if money is wagered on an outcome? Would the NBA investigate? Or would Adam Silver, the boss on high, prefer these dark moments remain private?
The media have no interest in investigating scams. Or they’d have to address the grime in their own workplaces, where too many broadcasters and writers are regular gamblers and, perhaps, allowing game results to sway editorial assessments. Years ago in Denver, a sports columnist was nailed in a cocaine arrest in connection with a bookie. Were her overly mean columns about the Broncos impacted by her betting habits? Again, what stops a media person from using a gambling app? How can ESPN or Fox Sports realistically ban employees’ wagers when networks are actively promoting gambling on the air, when a gambler such as Scott Van Pelt is bemoaning “bad beats” on “SportsCenter” every night? When Terry Bradshaw and David Ortiz are tempting problem bettors with suitcases of money?
Scams are publicized only when a conference such as the SEC, or a league such as the NFL, wants those stories out in the open. This way, the public believes the sports industry is on top of all wagering sins when, in fact, examples are being made of the few people they do catch. Think Bohannon is the only coach gambling against his team? Think Quintez Cephus, C.J. Moore and Shaka Toney — banned by the NFL for at least the 2023 season — are the only three players betting on league games? They were convenient targets for commissioner Roger Goodell, as collateral damage on the mainstream periphery. If a superstar was caught betting on games, or a premier coach, would the league tell us? Would we ever know? Goodell is on record thusly: “The NFL cannot be compensated in damages for the harm that sports gambling poses to the goodwill, character and integrity of NFL football.” So why does he do business with sportsbooks that easily can undermine integrity by offering easy gambling opportunities for players and personnel?
Sports and its lucrative side business, nonetheless, are in a celebratory mood today. Woo hoo! The Alabama baseball coach was snuffed out!
OK, that’s one. How many others are getting away with confidence crimes? Well, how many leagues are playing how many games in a season?
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.