Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: A Summer of Scandal

Is this the summer of scandal or what?

Michael Vick is indicted for involvement in a sadistic dog fighting ring that executed losing animals in a variety of cruel methods. The NBA must now weather the misconduct of referee Tim Donaghy, who allegedly gambled on, and possibly fixed, games in which he officiated. The Tour de France — yes, they're still holding it even though Lance Armstrong isn't racing in it … and yes, I'm surprised too — is enduring more shame as Stage 13 time trial winner Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion. There goes Keith Richards' cycling career …  Meanwhile, Barry Bonds, linked to the BALCO steroids scandal, is set to break one of the most important records in American sports while Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig seemingly hides in his office with his fingers over his eyes and his thumbs in his ears begging someone, anyone to make the bad man stop.

The obvious question is: “What next?” How do these leagues rebound from this stuff? Some think the magnitude of the Michael Vick case or Donaghy's gambling might stain the NFL and NBA severely. Maybe, but I tend to think that baseball and the Tour de France are in worse shape.

When I say, “worse shape,” I don't mean in image. Nothing this summer is going to supplant the image of Mike Vick's cronies swinging man's best friend from a noose, an image conjured by details in the indictment. But while image and appearance are more important than ever in this era where immediate information and shortened attention spans often inhibit the full consideration of issues, it still isn't everything.

While the Vick indictment has blitzed the public with a measure of shock and awfulness, it hasn't touched the NFL's core. No matter how marketable he is, how visible, nor how increasingly horrid these accusations, he's just one man. The integrity of the sport itself was not compromised. That much cannot be said for Donaghy's transgressions as an NBA referee.

The Donaghy scandal violated the sanctity of the sport of basketball. Fans, players, coaches, owners, all of them put their faith in the officials to call a fair game. Refs may blow calls or miss fouls, but that was acceptable because they had no personal interest in the game's outcome. Donaghy, however, did and he knew exactly how he wanted his games to end.

Who knows if his calls were impartial or actually subservient to the spread? There's even a good chance that certain teams were destined to lose even before they stepped onto the court.

As far as the magnitude of the transgression is concerned, Donaghy's misconduct was the most egregious of the items above, however I feel the NBA is in a better position to rebound than Major League Baseball or the Tour de France due to the scope of the scandal and the immediate reaction by the league.

As of right now, Donaghy is the lone transgressor, and despite the NBA's propensity to serve as fodder for conspiracy theorists, this is so far an isolated incident. If the names of more officials emerge, that changes, but for now, this is contained. That is most definitely not the case in cycling and baseball.

By all appearances, the use of performance enhancing drugs in cycling is rampant. Year in and year out, high-profile cyclists are implicated in doping scandals. Last year it was Floyd Landis, this year it was Vinokourov. The fact these guys are still doping means they think they can get away with it, which probably means that there are other cyclists out there that are sneaking through drug screening.  To me that means cycling is doing a really lousy job of making sure competitions are fair. And it keeps happening. Here we have a bad image, compromised integrity and no sign that the cycling world has this issue under control.

The combination of those three elements is killing the sport, but cycling is not alone thanks to Major League Baseball.

The issue of steroids was supposed to be resolved by now. However, Major League Baseball has not only struggled to put steroids in the past (How many active players has the Mitchell investigation spoken to again?), the scandal is about to leave another permanent scar thanks to Barry Bonds.

What is baseball going to do about the sport's history relating to steroids? Who knows. Selig can't even decide if he's going to attend the game when Bonds breaks the record. How is he going to reach a clear decision on how the league will handle the issue's larger implications?

The inability of cycling to weed out performance enhancing drug use and Major League Baseball's failure to firmly deal with the same issue has let these scandals linger long beyond their shelf lives. It's been almost four years since Barry Bonds first testified before the BALCO grand jury and the topic still rears its head regularly. As awful as Vick's indictment and Donaghy's gambling have been, absent further developments, I just don't see their stains reaching four years into the future.