June 17, 2009
Last month we wondered why the NFL was allowing teams to sign licensing deals with state lotteries despite its strong anti-gambling stance. After a recent article about the subject in The Wall Street Journal the answer becomes clearer. This isn't about ethics, it's about perception.
NFL spokesman Joe Browne told the newspaper:
"If sports betting becomes more prevalent through state-promoted schemes, it will inevitably lead those gambling fans to question whether an erroneous officiating call or a dropped pass late in the game resulted from an honest mistake or an intentional act by a corrupt player or referee."
Read between the lines and it becomes apparent that the NFL is worried people perceiving that the league is crooked, not because they're genuinely worried about that actually happening.
It makes sense when you consider that a situation like the one Browne described is pretty far-fetched. This isn't 1962. NFL players make more money than the supposed gamblers who would be rigging a game. The small likelihood of a player getting in debt to gamblers and then throwing a game isn't enough reason to come out against a practice that would generate more interest for the league. (And why that scenario is any more likely to occur with legalized gambling than it would be today is still a mystery. It's not legal to bet on NBA games, but Tim Donaghy still managed.)
The NFL is teflon anyway. We never hear about drug scandals like we do in baseball and the league isn't considered as "thuggish" as the NBA, despite arrest rates that are comparable. It's understandable that the league wants to protect its image, but the media already does a fine job of that as it is.
At the end of that excellent WSJ piece, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair is quoted as saying that he thinks that legalized gambling is coming and that the NFL's resistance is futile. I'm sure the league realizes this too. Maybe the reason they're coming out so hard against the practice is merely so people believe they are. After all, the NFL knows all about the power of perception.
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