Supreme Court goes "Fever Pitch" on sports gambling

Dufresne-Headshot-2017-Thumb-CU

Monday was a “bad beat” for those of us weened on the evils of sports gambling, as irreparably put to big screen in the 1985 flopbuster: “Fever Pitch.”

(Note: this is not to be confused with a later movie made about the Boston Red Sox).

Monday was the day the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, struck down a law that largely outlawed sports gambling outside of Nevada.

Shoot, I had $100 riding on a 7-2 decision.

This ruling opens the gates of iniquity for other states to sanction their own sin parlors.

What hath God wrought?

Better yet: who hath God in this year's Soap Box Derby?

Not even the soothsayers of Fever Pitch could have predicted this worst fear realized.

Does the 1985 movie still hold up? You bet it does.

Fever Pitch maintains a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was expertly considered by some of the world’s most renowned critics.

“You could live a long time and never see anything as awful as Fever Pitch,” wrote Janet Maslin of the New York Times.

What?!

Roger Ebert summed it up in four words: “This movie is sick.”

We did not Roger that.

The young sportswriters of my day gathered regularly for “Fever Pitch” parties to pay homage to the worst\best movie ever made.

Fever Pitch was so horrible it was, as a result, fantastic. What threw everyone for a loop was it being directed (AND written) by Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood, Elmer Gantry, Blackboard Jungle) and supported by a cast that included Ryan O’Neal, John Saxon and the the fetching Catherine Hicks.

FeverPitch

And don’t forget Chad Everett as “The Dutchman.”

Movie's Executive Music Producer…Quincy Jones (who recently ripped the Beatles for being overrated?)

Fever Pitch was supposed to be a serious account of a Los Angeles sportswriter (O’Neal as Steve Taggart) being overtaken by a sports gambling addiction. It went terribly wrong and ended up a comedy so over-the-top it toppled over like Humpty Dumpty.

The movie was filmed at the L.A. Herald Examiner building (still a viable daily in 1985) and we loved the newspaper(y) imagery and rat-a-tat histrionics.

Fever Pitch whiffed badly on its intended, serious message: that gambling is a serious disease that can destroy families and lives.

And that makes Monday’s Supreme Court decision a little more complicated.

The Court ruled it should be up to individual states to make that decision and that is about to open the sports gambling derby.

New Jersey, which brought the case that landed in Supreme Court, is already ready to Rock and dice Roll.

Other states will soon follow—so what does it all mean?

The decision is huge and will have profound ramifications. It will pump billions of dollars into the industry, be a boon to ratings, create sports\writing\gambling jobs and maybe ignite a few juicy point-shaving scandals.

I have mixed feelings. I was mentored on this topic by Bill Dwyre, my sports editor for 25 years at the Los Angeles Times.

Dwyre’s policy on sports gambling was draconian. He did not condone, or tolerate it, and fought the idea of Las Vegas odds even being posted in his "world champion" sports section.

Dwyre was Carrie Nation with less hair but a bigger hatchet.

Sports gambling, committed by an L.A. Times staff writer, got you suspended and\or fired.

A lot of staffers thought Dwyre was hyper sensitive on this subject and I’m sure some of them placed wagers on games they covered.

But I appreciated Dwyre’s edict. I thought it kept us honest and made us different. I loved my L.A. Herald Examiner brethren but I also remember seeing a few of them throw fists down in the press box when the Rams didn’t cover.

How could you honestly report on a game on which you took action?

I think that was Dwyre’s doctoral thesis.

In nearly 35 years at the L.A. Times, I never bet on sports other than a few bucks, here and there, at Santa Anita. Ok, there was that ONE time. While covering a fight in gambling-legal Las Vegas, I had my wife work up a proposition bet on San Francisco beating San Diego in the Super Bowl.

I felt a little dirty, like I cheated on Dwyre, even though it was legal and my wife placed the bet.

Also: We won!

Yet, I also realize times have changed. Sports gambling is already a billion dollar business in America.

Why not tax and regulate it? Use the money to build schools and infrastructure. Wean out the undesirables and make it legitimate.

You remember who got rich off Prohibition, right? Al Capone.

The NCAA, NFL and other institutions have long fought against the further outbreak of gambling. Those same institutions\corporations are also, on this issue, laughably disingenuous and hypocritical.

The NCAA rails against gambling and still won’t allow sanctioned events in the state of Nevada. The NCAA does, however, allow conferences to hold basketball tournaments in Las Vegas. Hey, they’re big money makers!

Players from those conferences (Pac 12, West Coast, Mountain West) have also been video-taped in casinos wearing their official school garb.

What can you do, the NCAA says, if the kids are over 21?

The NFL has long recoiled from gambling as the evangelist does Satan, knowing full well that gambling is the pitchfork that stirs their drink. Oh, and NFL owners recently approved the Oakland Raiders' move to Gomorrah.

Bottom line: states and sports are going to have to figure this out. The NCAA and NFL will push to have Congress pass some basic oversight as individual states move into this quick sand. And that's fine by me.

Yet, the deed is done so there’s no stopping it, so let's hope it doesn’t corrupt us all to kingdom come. And by all I mean sports, sportswriters, athletes and politicians.

Not like we couldn’t be corrupted before….

Part of me will miss the sanctimonious, but salient, message of Fever Pitch: gambling CAN be a serious problem.

But so is alcohol (legal) and tobacco (legal) and pot (increasingly legal). It is up to individuals, not society, to regulate...yada, yada, yada.

Part of me still clings to the mantra Bill Dwyre preached years ago: a sportswriter covering a team should not bet on that team. An athlete playing for a team should not bet on, or against, his team.

But what can you do? The Supreme Court has just spoken from its high horse.

Let’s make the bet, I mean best, of it. Part of me can’t wait to get some wild action on my Angels, like the over-under month on when a Halo starter will be allowed to pitch into the ninth inning this season.

Or, if manager Mike Scioscia will ever allow Ohtani to bat in games he pitches, you know, like they’ve done in the National League since 1870?

Part of me can't wait to bet on a new spring football team coached by Rick Neuheisel.

Gambling on sports has always around; now it's officially sanctioned and here to stay.

Coming to your state: "Lose your house with a phone APP and the simple push of your finger!"

Reminds me of Roger Ebert's review of Fever Pitch: thumb down.

Comments