Major League Sports Devastated by Rogue Deeds

The National Basketball Association confirms a federal investigation of one of its referees for betting on games, including games where he officiated. The National Football League deals with fallout from Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick's federal indictment on charges related to dog fighting.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This country's major professional sports leagues are in turmoil.

An unprecedented confluence of controversy has hit basketball, football and baseball and left fans wondering where are the games. The NBA is dealing with a betting scandal allegedly involving a veteran referee. The NFL is dealing with a top player who's been indicted for alleged involvement with illegal dog fighting. Major League Baseball can't get away from doping as Barry Bonds inches closer to the all-time homerun record.

Joining us to talk about this is NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, which league commissioner do you think has it the worst?

GOLDMAN: Well, the consensus is David Stern of the NBA. The referees are the people charged with maintaining order and integrity in the games and the idea that one of them - in this case veteran Tim Donaghy - allegedly bet on games and possibly made calls that influenced the outcome as a way to cash in on those bets, that gets to the heart of the game's credibility. And David Stern spoke publicly about it for the first time yesterday in very dramatic terms.

Mr. DAVID STERN (NBA Commissioner): I feel betrayed by what happened on behalf of the sport, regardless of how protective I've been. This is not something that is anything other than an act of betrayal of what we know in sports as a sacred trust.

MONTAGNE: And that, again, David Stern. In his press conference, did the commissioner answer people's concerns?

GOLDMAN: He defended the NBA against charges that the league let this betting scandal happen. He says the league investigated Donaghy in 2005 for a couple of reasons, including alleged gambling at a casino. And that part of the investigation turned up negative.

Stern said at this point he considers the current FBI investigation into Donaghy an isolated case. Still, there is concern about whether this problem goes beyond one man. There have long been complaints about referee inconsistencies.

There's that recent study alleging that refs take race into consideration when making calls. And people are starting to wonder if some of these officials may be acting subjectively when they're supposed to be playing it straight down the line.

And Renee, if fans start wondering about what's really happening on the court, the NBA has a very big problem.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, we also heard from another beleaguered sports commissioner yesterday, NFL head Roger Goodell, speaking about that dogfighting charge.

Mr. ROGER GOODELL (NFL Commissioner): From the moment you read that indictment, it turns your stomach. And we're extremely disappointed that a player has been alleged to be involved with that, and we take that very seriously.

GOLDMAN: And Goodell there is speaking about the indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Vick has been the object of animal rights protests. This is mushrooming into a huge PR problem for the league. This week, Goodell ordered Vick to stay away from the Falcons' training camp, which opens tomorrow. Vick also has his first court appearance on Thursday.

MONTAGNE: And might Roger Goodell take stronger action than just banning Vick from training camp?

GOLDMAN: Well, he seems to have that power, according to a new player conduct policy. He has used that to ban several players before their cases play out in the legal process. Player misconduct is the big issue for Roger Goodell and this is still his first year on the job.

With Vick he wants to gather information and understand the facts. But you know, he can't dally on this. Dogs strike an emotional cord for so many in this country.

MONTAGNE: And baseball Commissioner Bud Selig hasn't had any scandals break in the last few days. But there is, of course, the ongoing controversy of performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds has been accused of doping, denies ever using drugs, but with him in the news every day, I suppose that controversy is heating up.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, you could say that. Bonds is two homeruns away from tying Hank Aaron's career record of 755. Yesterday, Selig finally said that schedule permitting, he will attend the games Bonds plays in so he can be there for the record-tying and breaking moments. Now, Selig had hemmed and hawed for the longest time.

But yesterday he said the record is so momentous and significantly that everyone in this country is innocent until proven guilty.

MONTAGNE: And finally, there was also more doping news at cycling's Tour de France. One of the pre-race favorites tested positive and withdrew from the race with his team. So Tom, what are sports fans to do with all this bad news?

GOLDMAN: Well, I guess for once you could say it's good to be hockey. Hockey is always striving to be included in this country with the three major sports. But hockey should be happy to be second-tier and scandal-free for now. It's still early in the week, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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