Adam Silver dropped a fiery little Molotov cocktail yesterday, didn’t he?
Up to now, the NBA Commissioner was best known for the swift and decisive heave-ho he gave to former L.A. Clippers owner/bigot Donald Sterling. That move was strong, but hardly controversial among the masses. Unlike the fuse Silver lit yesterday when, in an op-ed for the New York Times, he argued for allowing states not named Nevada to legalize sports gambling.
Most athleto-political debates – think of the Washington R-words controversy and the kerfuffle over Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player – arrive in stages. By the time these stories hit the front page of Yahoo and AOL, most of us know where we stand.
Silver’s proposal, on the other hand, pretty much came out of nowhere. Rather than igniting a frothy and well-rehearsed Twitter debate, the op-ed brought about a collective pause. It feels like we’re all sort of sitting there, index fingers in the air like we’re about to make a point, mouths agape, lips about to form a word but there’ snothing coming out.
Full frontal legalized gambling? Well… maybe? Probably? If we can set up support for the gambling-addicted and somehow ensure that the leagues who assign referees and umpires aren’t actively involved in the take?
In other words, we’ll get back to you on this one.
But while my brain slowly begins to sort through the thickets, my gut has an immediate reaction: No. Absolutely not. DO NOT legalize sports gambling.
It has nothing to do with moral or social or economic issues, nothing to do with preserving the integrity of competition. It has to do with the touts. Even in the age of pre-legalization, when the leagues want us to pretend the over/under doesn’t exist, the touts have infiltrated the airwaves. I heard one on the Bay Area’s KNBR this afternoon. Time it wrong, and you’ll find entire shows given over to touts, each one rasping louder about how his college football picks are SOLID LOCKS, and how he would be happy to let you in on the profit if you will just pay him for the wisdom.
Honestly, there’s a lot of bad sports radio out there, and the touts are pretty much the worst of it.
And if gambling on sporting events goes totally legit, the biggest problem is that everyone will become a tout.
It’s bad enough that hours of ESPN and NFL Network programming time are now devoted to fantasy sports. Nothing against fantasy football or baseball, but listening to grown men earnestly tell me whom to play or sit on a given weekend is the type of entertainment that could have driven Manuel Noriega from the Vatican Embassy in like two hours.
After reading Silver’s argument in favor of legalization, I’m having a flash-forward, and it isn’t pretty. I’m watching an ESPN program of the very-near-future. It’s called “The Spread,” and it’s hosted by a second-tier football writer and a former player and a Jimmy the Greek-type wise guy, and they’re arguing about whether the Patriots can cover the 6½ against the Bills. Of course they can! No way! You’re an idiot. You’re an idiot.
We’re all idiots, which is why this whole dreary vision is probably inevitable. Thanks, Adam.