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Monday, May 17, 2010

Fixing Pro Sports?

Media, Corruption and Lies

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Lately, sports fans have been given many reasons to suspect the worst about the games they love. Between athletes who get away with murder, club owners blackmailing cities to build new stadiums and record books tainted by steroids, the luster that once shone around the great games has faded to the color of rust. Still, most of us by tickets or tune in expecting honest competition at the highest level of skill—even if that talent might have been sharpened by performance-enhancing drugs. What if it turns out that the outcome of many matches is rigged?

That’s just one of the melancholy thoughts in Brian Tuohy’s The Fix is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR (Feral House). The Kenosha sports writer trades the usual boosterism of his profession for the mantle of investigative reporter. What he finds are league officials and team owners desperate to hide scandal, athletes guilty of everything from fixing their own games to spousal abuse.

Tuohy argues his case forcefully, or maybe cases is a better word. As a compendium of wrongdoing and rule breaking, The Fix is In tends to conflate the victimless crime of an athlete betting on his team to win with the egregiousness of an athlete shaving points for the bookies. The failure to test players for pot smoking emerges alongside failures to identify and prevent the use of performance drugs.

But even if there are no shades of gray in Tuohy’s perspective, he certainly finds enough blackness in misconduct and even Mob-controlled criminality. Although many of the charges he unearths were never proven in court, the smoke is so thick that the fires must be numerous and spread across the entire playing field of professional sports. Along with the power of money, loyalty to the game and the human tendency to protect one’s own in explaining the action and inaction of owners and sports commissioners, the happy talk media is to blame for failing to play watchdog. Tuohy’s depressing conclusion is that professional athletics has more to do with entertainment than sports. Football then becomes little different than professional wrestling except for one thing: everyone knows that wrestling is just a spectacle.

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