Sign-stealing discipline should make all professional sports leagues very nervous

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In the first of the three Lord of the Rings movies (don’t call me a nerd because I can quote the films, just call me a nerd because I’m a nerd), Aragorn asks Frodo whether he’s frightened. When Frodo says that he is, Aragorn says, “Not nearly frightened enough.”

That’s how every owner and executive of every American pro sports league should feel amid the news that Major League Baseball has taken strong and decisive action against Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch (pictured) and General Manager Jeff Luhnow in connection with sign stealing. With Red Sox manager Alex Cora reportedly expected to absorb significant punishment for similar misconduct, baseball needs to worry about external governmental entities getting involved. And every sport needs to worry about where involvement from external governmental entities could lead.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had no choice but to take strong action. The problem is that, in taking strong action, Manfred has essentially waved his arms and shouted to the world, “Hey! We got cheaters over here!” In an age of legalized gambling, that’s the kind of thing that could lead, broadly, to the creation of an independent federal agency with the ability to regulate professional (and collegiate) sporting events. Specifically, one of these scandals could spark a criminal prosecution.

That’s likely why Manfred’s statement announcing the Astros’ discipline includes the incredible (as in “not credible”) comment that “I am neither in a position to evaluate whether the scheme helped Astros hitters (who were unquestionably a very talented group), nor whether it helped the Astros win any games.” Of course it did; they wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t help, and Hinch and Luhnow wouldn’t have been treated like Leopold and Loeb if the scheme didn’t undermine the integrity of the outcome of games.

Undermining the integrity of the outcome of games takes on far greater importance as more and more American states allow citizens to wager their hard-earned money on those game outcomes. When gambling is illegal in most states, cheating scandals are the equivalent of selling someone oregano and telling them it’s weed. Once what was illegal becomes legalized, the victims of shenanigans have much greater standing to complain, their elected representatives have much greater reason to develop protections against said shenanigans, and law-enforcement agencies have much greater reason to apply existing and new laws that punish those who deliberately try to undermine game outcomes.

Here’s what it means for the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, MLB, and the NCAA: At some point, a given scandal will become the tipping point for a serious and sustained national conversation that becomes the downside to the huge financial upside that comes from the widespread legalization of betting on sporting events. It could be this one, it could be the next one. Each scandal moves the needle a little closer to the inevitable reckoning.

17 responses to “Sign-stealing discipline should make all professional sports leagues very nervous

  1. If sports leagues and fans want to dance with the devil of gambling, both deserve every negative outcome they get.

    It makes me sad that it’s not enough for this sport to be entertainment – we now have to have it beholden to the added master of the ravenous gambling industry. It will only make the game worse.

  2. It’s also why you need a legitimate investigation, not one where league executives “wordsmith” what we’re told is an independent investigation.

    We’re not all as stupid as they would like us to be.

  3. “In an age of legalized gambling”

    Its been an “age of legalized gambling” since betting online became available in the 80s. It may be a little easier to go about it now, but nothing has changed in that if you wanted to bet you could always place a bet.

  4. Y’all always forget that the NFLPA is always involved in every NFL investigation…and that the NFLPA will skew the facts in order to protect its clients.
    The craziness is the fault of the players UNION, not the NFL.

  5. As long as the video crew says they didn’t pass the information along to the “sports operations” side of the business, it’s all okay.

    No penalty needed.

    We can trust them.

  6. The Patriots and all their super bowl wins are tainted and that’s all history will think of them

  7. Unless you are the pittsburgh steelers or new england patriots.

    pittsburgh steelers team doctor richard rydze
    got 10 years in federal prison for illegal distribution
    of anabolic steroids, growth hormone, and painkillers.

    The steelers WERE NOT fined or punished.

    To top it off… the head coach that benefited from the cheating
    and some of the juiced players were “elected” to the hof.

  8. Glad Houston got hammered for what they did. I was sceptical when the league office said they would but damn, they did it, kudos.

    It should be the same for all sports, all other leagues could learn ( although generally you don’t get this kind of nonsense in the NBA or NHL) a thing or two.

    I think Park Avenue needs to take notes on how to actually punish cheats. Are you listening Rodger the dodger?

  9. I agree with punishing cheaters. But Manfred and the MLB have lost their minds! Pushing the envelope is part of the game, its civilized warfare. But where is the unilateral punishment for all the other teams and executives who did the same? My biggest problem is that this punishment truly enforces the corrupt notion that the very top of the MLB can pick and choose who they want to put on top of the pyramid. I don’t understand why the team owners aren’t busting Manfred for allowing this debacle to become a nit picking swipe at controlling the game. What about the other teams? What about the umpires? MLB has bigger problems than cheating or betting.

  10. That’s why outside Boston no one respects the patriots Super Bowls. It’s easy to win when you know what the other team is doing #asterisk

  11. Who’s more corrupt? The government or the nfl that still punished when basic science proved them wrong?

  12. Yeah except the Patriots were caught red-handed for Spygate and only received a slap on the wrist then inextricably Goodell destroyed all the recordings. Then their latest incident it was found that the team employees who filmed the Bengals sideline didn’t have any connection to the team. No wonder they cheat so much when the NFL lets them get by with it.

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