In basketball, it wasn’t drugs. Not this year, anyway. The NBA’s scandal involved gambling which, in big-time sports, can be lethal. It doesn’t take many players to fix a basketball game, as several point-shaving scandals in the college game have demonstrated. And even a casual follower of the game can appreciate how much a referee who is in the pockets of gamblers could influence the score and make sure a team comes in over, or under, the line. Well, it turns out the NBA had a ref who gambled and got in over his head. Ten years ago, that might have been fatal to the game. But this year, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Perhaps because a ref can only fix the results of the games he actually officiates. So the corruption wasn’t systemic. Or maybe — and this seems more likely — the fans have simply become accustomed to a certain amount of scandal in sports. News that the New England Patriots were doing a little illegal spying on opposing teams seemed predictable and amusing. Of course they were, and wasn’t it just like Coach Bill Belichick to go for any edge, even one that eventually got him fined half-a-million dollars and cost his team a draft choice.
And that, in fact, might be the big sports story of 2007: the end, not of illusions, but of disillusionment. After all, in order to be disillusioned, you need illusions. The kid who pleaded, “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” to Shoeless Joe Jackson after the White Sox had fixed a World Series for the benefit of gamblers was honestly dismayed. He believed, quaintly, in the integrity of the game.
It's all a matter of perspective.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Geoffrey Norman writes on National Review Online about the year in sports scandal: