Saturday, November 27, 2021

Pro Leagues Are ‘All In’ on Sports Betting

If you watched the World Series back in October, or if you like to watch National Football League games on Sunday afternoons, then you’ve probably noticed prominent advertisements during the telecasts for sports betting services. Besides running commercials during time outs, the gambling angle is even being promoted by the announcers and pre-game hosts. 

Recently, I saw an ad for a particular “sports book” just before an NFL game was about to begin. They highlighted the fact there are now many more ways “to fund your account.” In other words, after a guy gets wiped out by the 1 o’clock games, he can use credit cards, PayPal, or bank transfers to dump in more dough to bet (and lose) on the 4 o’clock games. How convenient!
Some of the big-name wagering services are called DraftKings, FanDuel, and Caesar’s. More accurate names would be CashGone, LoseBucks, and Can’t-Pay-Rent-No-More.

Now that the NFL is all-in on people betting on football games, the league should offer a public and sincere apology to Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. 

Decades ago, Paul Hornung was a star running back for the Green Bay Packers and Alex Karras was an All-Pro defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions. In 1963 the league suspended both players for one full season for the “unpardonable sin” of gambling on football games.

After the suspensions were announced, league commissioner Pete Rozelle explained to Sports Illustrated, “This sport has grown so quickly and gained so much of the approval of the American public that the only way it can be hurt is through gambling.” Uh huh. I suspect the real reason Rozelle was angry at the two players was because they didn’t give the NFL a cut of their winnings.

Obviously, the NFL no longer thinks gambling can hurt the league, not when there’s a ton of money to be made. Even though Hornung and Karras are deceased, it still would be nice if the NFL offered some kind of posthumous statement to clear their names and admit that taking away a full year of their careers was overly harsh. By the way, the average NFL career lasts only about 3-1/2 years, so a one-year suspension is a major hit on a guy’s ability to earn a living.
A funny moment occurred the following season when the two players were reinstated. During the coin toss before a Lions game, the referee asked Karras, “Heads or tails?” Alex dryly replied, “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not permitted to gamble.”

Major League baseball also is gung-ho about sports betting, with the same wagering services prominently featured on commercials during ball games. That being the case, there is another person who deserves an apology: Pete Rose.

If you’re not familiar, Mr. Rose is the all-time major league hit leader, but he was banned from baseball in 1989 because he bet on games. (However, he never threw a game or bet on his team to lose.) As a result, he is not allowed to be in the Hall of Fame, even though he was one of the greatest players in baseball history. 
Pete’s biggest mistake was that he refused to grovel and beg forgiveness, which is in keeping with his rather unpleasant personality. But being likeable is not a requirement for entry into Cooperstown. Ever hear of a Hall-of-Famer named Ty Cobb? Compared to Cobb, Pete Rose is Mother Teresa. 

So, I don’t really care that pro sports leagues have done a 180 degree turn and now embrace sports betting. But if gambling suddenly is so cool, the leagues should apologize to guys who were simply ahead of their time. Do you think they will? I wouldn’t bet on it.

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