Friday, June 16, 2006

I don't know how I feel about his article

By Bill Simmons. I like Bill, I like his writing style, I like his irreverent take on sports icons, and his hyperbolic ravings about whatever he's excited about. He's a very ironic writer, and certainly will be remembered as the best and likely the most influential sportswriter of his generation. I do not say these things lightly.

However, I don't know how I feel about article like this:

Yes, the most cutthroat athlete of his generation loves to gamble, and even more than that, he loves to win. Should you be surprised? The qualities that once made MJ transcendent on the court -- his legendary hypercompetitiveness,
superhuman stamina, larger-than-life swagger and unwavering confidence -- make the gambling crossover an obvious choice.

And if your franchise guy didn't gamble, didn't need that feeling -- wouldn't you be worried?

Bill's point is that the very thing that makes players great also make them gamblers. In fact, he goes so far as to say he doesn't trust a player (other than Larry Byrd, whom he refers to as a "cheapskate" for not gambling) who doesn't gamble.

In a way, I see his point. One wants to be excellent, and one wants to win, and gambling certainly plays on the competitive fires that burn in athletes. But please, let's take a close look at this.

For every Michael Jordon (who probably could never gamble away his enormous fortune), there's a Boston College. While Barkely will likely never lose more than he can make, what about Darren McCarty?

Maybe at the very pinnacle of the sport, athletes can consider themselves immune from the effects of their behavior, but what about the marginal athletes? What about the college athletes? Didn't the 1919 White Socks throw a world series because of gambling? Are we so foolish to think such a thing couldn't happen in today's world? Is it so inconceivable that a pro athlete making $600,000 a year, but with 1.2 million in gambling debts, might not throw a critical game to payoff a large portion of that debt?

While it may be true that gambling is a part of athletics, it is not reasonable to believe that athletes will not take money to throw games in order to get out of gambling debts. Or at the very lease, use their influence to affect games they are or are not gambling on. Rather than "embrace" a problem which seems intractable, we rather should continue to educate the 20-something players who think that good times will last forever.

We need to remember that the vast majority of athletes are, in fact, very young, and that accepting their lavish lifestyles and gambling as part of who they need to be is placing unfair burdens on them. All athletes, even those who are not Michael Jordan, believe they can be, or will be. And if Simmons' ideals are accepted, they will all therefore gamble big in an attempt to prove it. If the Bill Simmons' ideal continues, scandals of athletes throwing games will inevitably follow.


At 12:45 PM, Blogger Tom Goodman said...

Pawnking: This is another thoughful post. You are on a roll. As for Simmons, the entire piece is a red herring. He wishes to equate gambling on and off the court but is sadly mistaken if he thinks these are the same thing. They do not even originate in the same part of the psyche. Wanting the ball with one second left on the clock is not riverboat gambling; it's confidence based on experience. Some times it might even be hubris. Making million dollar wagers, on the other hand, is about thrills (tempered in Jordan's case by the knowledge he can pay afford it.) In lesser players, the attraction of gambling has more to do with entitlement (I am supposed to win)than about ice water in the veins.

Gambling is embraced by the NFL and, to a lesser degree, by the other sports though they would be quick to distance themselves from such characterizations. What they do not tolerate is specific information that players, coaches, managers et al have bet on their own sport, team, games. That's why Rose is and should forever remain banished.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger John Salmon said...

Sounds like Simmons is in real decline as a writer. How did he get that silliness past his editor? Maybe he doesn't have one.

His argument reminds me of those (usually) heavy drinkers who say, "I don't trust anyone who doesn't drink." You assume it's said in jest, but Simmons seems to be serious.

The list of superior athletes who were straight arrow types is at least as long as the list of high-rollers-start with Christy Matthewson and continue with Lou Gehrig, Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser, Dale Murphy, Jason Michaels (ha!) and dozens of other guys.


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