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Monday, July 23, 2007
Donaghy isn't only one with gambling addiction

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

So a ref got cracked. Surprised? And if the NBA thought it had problems before (conspiracy theories, image issues, fights, low television ratings, the Eastern Conference, Kobe's soap operas, Ron Artest, Mark Cuban, etc.) … we ain't seen nothin' yet.

Because isolated incident or not, at the root of the latest (and probably biggest) problem damaging the integrity of the league is not the fixing and/or controlling scores of games or the alleged connection to the mob and the Gambino family. At the root of the Tim Donaghy issue is the one thing that has plagued all sports since the day man met ball and discovered competition could be a business: gambling.

Up until this point everything we've read about how Donaghy got himself into this situation originates with him "having a gambling problem."

It happens all the time in sports. Vegas was built because of it. (Think an NBA team has a chance in hell of being in Vegas now?) Horse racing and boxing might not exist without it. Fans, athletes, coaches, owners, scouts, refs, all get trapped. Hooked. Caught up in the extracurricular circumstance of what gambling brings. They want the rush of the game inside the game, the extra incentive to make the game being played, or the race being raced, or the contest being judged worth more than what's at stake on the playing field.

In Michael Lemonick's recent cover story in Time called "How We Get Addicted," he raises the issue of dependency and writes to a certain degree that "it's the brains, not the guts" that drive people's compulsions.

"Addictions," Joseph Frascella, director of the division of clinical neuroscience at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says in the story, "are repetitive behaviors in the face of negative consequences, the desire to continue something you know is bad for you."

The possible addiction that forced Donaghy to call some games the way that he allegedly did, which led to this story, may have began with his inability to stop gambling. If we all take a look at sports over the years, there are many incidents that have made us question "things" that have happened in all sports, made us fall out of love with our heroes in the game, and reminded us that inside of sports there are flawed human beings. It's sports' new DNA. And even with this latest scandal's being exposed, there's really nothing that can be done that's going to change or stop something like this from happening again.

And Donaghy's not alone. Not saying that other officials will come forward or get caught (although there are reports saying that when Donaghy turns himself in he might verbally bring "others" down with him), but the fact is he is not the first, only or last person directly connected to professional sports who will have his or her career destroyed because of an inability to stop that itch.

I personally know of players who have debts to people in the streets that exceed $6 million. I've had loan sharks and "collectors" who speak on behalf of "boss men" come up to me and tell me to deliver messages to certain players that I have written about.

As Tom Shine of Reebok said in a GQ article, "I know of an NBA player who got into a staggering gambling situation. The people this guy lost money to, they were not nice guys. Wes (William Wesley, the man the article was about) saved him from getting killed."

I've been at dice games, at craps tables, in basements, in alleys, at golf outings, as part of conversations. I've seen players get so over their heads in "liability" from gambling that their careers have been sacrificed because they can no longer concentrate on the game because they can't get their minds away from the money they owe and the money they are chasing.

I've learned that when it comes to gambling in professional sports: It comes with the territory.

That's why I'm not surprised at what happened with Tim Donaghy. That's why none of us should be. Sad? Yes, we should be, but not surprised. We all need to understand that gambling -- not greed, not arrogance, not ignorance, not business -- is what caused this to happen. The power that gambling has on those that compete at this level -- and that power sometimes includes those who don't just play the game -- is indefinable. Refs, when it comes to this, are just as susceptible. They are players too.

Stanley H. Teitelbaum wrote in "Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols" of athletes: "Their personal interactions are often colored by (an) inflated view of themselves. It requires great emotional maturity to maintain relationships based on equality and reciprocity when you are surrounded by people eager to anticipate your every need." Think Pete Rose, Charles Barkley, John Daly, Michael Jordan. Think of the range of innocence and illegality. Think of what's at the core of the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal.

I thought you knew.

Now think Tim Donaghy.

Every one of us has a vice. An NBA ref let his get out of control, and it got the best of him. And it might take the NBA years to gain the public's trust back after this one. But until we acknowledge that point shaving, mob ties and game fixing are not the real issue here, that someone's gambling addiction is, this ugliness will rear its ugly head again. Just the next time, none of us can act like we didn't see it coming.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He's also the host of ESPN Original Entertainment's "NBA Live: Bring It Home". Sound off to Scoop here.