As the son of a college basketball official, I often sat in the stands during a game my dad reffed and heard fans call him every name in the book.
Cheater. Homer. Fixer.
He was called all of them and some of the time I was sitting right next to the person calling him all those things.
I never confronted a fan or even told him that he was denigrating a father of the kid sitting next to him. I simply sat in silence when anyone yelled that my dad was unfair or incompetent or worse.
Why? Because I always knew I had right on my side, that my dad — or any official, for that matter — would never willingly and willfully affect the outcome of a game. Calls are made, calls are missed, refs have good games and bad, but never would the man in the striped shirt try to make one team win or lose.
Now that NBA official Tim Donaghy has been accused of betting on games, including possibly games he reffed, all of that has changed. What Donaghy is accused of isn’t only going to hurt the NBA, it’s going to affect all of basketball and will likely have a negative impact on officials of every sport.
The Donaghy investigation plays into all the cynical views about the league having a vested interest in who wins games or championships. Even if Donaghy is proven to be the lone referee who made calls that affected whether a team covered the point spread, the fact of the matter is that every official in every sport will be indicted by fans.
Like it or not, however, there is nuance here. Right now, this scandal is disappointing. Whether or not it turns devastating remains to be seen.
One account of the Donaghy story indicated that he is ready to implicate a number of referees, players and possibly even coaches. Another stated that as of now there is actually no proof yet that Donaghy affected the outcome of games.
Those are very different scenarios. Both are serious. But a league-wide betting scandal is a very different thing than an official who got in over his head with gambling debt, then endeavored to tinker with the over/under on a game.
There are lots of questions. If what Donaghy did was so awful and egregious, why was he rated among the top officials the past couple of years? Why didn’t any of his officiating colleagues see what was going on? And why didn’t NBA personnel, who track and monitor this stuff with Vegas, see what was up?
Donaghy betrayed a sacred trust, no doubt, and commissioner David Stern said Tuesday that he believes Donaghy is the only official to do so. If that’s the case, Donaghy alone should take the fall.
Obviously, the rest of this story needs to play out. But for now, it’s important to acknowledge: NBA referees have integrity … it is onlyTim Donaghy who does not.
Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.
Will fans view all sports officials differently?
Share your comments below.