The ESPN headline read: “Entries in long-hidden notebook show Pete Rose bet on baseball as player.” The accompanying story explained: “The documents are copies of pages from a notebook seized from the home of former Rose associate Michael Bertolini during a raid by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in October 1989, nearly two months after Rose was declared permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball. Their authenticity has been verified by two people who took part in the raid, which was part of a mail fraud investigation and unrelated to gambling.”
Substitute, for example, the name of D. Wayne Lukas for Pete Rose in the ESPN headline: “Entries in long-hidden notebook show trainer D. Wayne Lukas bet on [his winning entry Charismatic in the 1999 Kentucky Derby].” This disclosure would not be scandalous because pari-mutuel wagering is legal in Kentucky and owners and trainers are permitted to bet on their horses to win. Yet why is this lack of transparency acceptable in horse racing when a baseball player who bet on his own team is barred from the Hall of Fame or when a celebrity entrepreneur and businesswoman like Martha Stewart is imprisoned for insider trading?
Several people, including a well-known sports commentator, were discussing the Rose revelations on a television program. One person said Rose was only betting on his team, the Cincinnati Reds, to win, implying what was so wrong about that? The rejoinder was that in the games in which Rose declined to bet on the Reds, he evidently did not like their chances, possibly because the starting pitcher was in a slump or did not match up well with the opposing hitters. In so doing, he was using inside information to distinguish between likely winning and losing wagers.
Meanwhile, another sports report, this one in the Plain Dealer, revealed how Cleveland Cavaliers starting guard Iman Shumpert coped with injury and pain in the recent NBA Finals: “…Shumpert…gave the Cavaliers all he had as he essentially played the last four games of the postseason with one arm…He was shot up with painkillers [emphasis added] before Game 4 of the NBA Finals in order to continue playing through the excruciating pain of a bruised shoulder, a source revealed, and he may have been injected more than once during the Finals.”
Substitute, say, American Pharoah into one of the sentences about Shumpert, as follows: “American Pharoah was shot up with painkillers [in the Belmont].” Why is it appropriate for an NBA guard to take painkillers on game day and not a racehorse? Perhaps because a horse has no choice or because jockeys’ lives are at risk when a sore horse runs with a masked ailment.
There are often no easy answers to ethical questions.
Major League Baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, demanded the power from club owners for the commissioner to be able to investigate “any act, transaction, or practice” that is “not in the best interests of baseball” and to ascertain “what preventive, remedial or punitive action is appropriate.”
Horse racing does not have a commissioner, much less one with dictatorial power, but it does operate under the aegis of increasingly cooperating state regulators and may eventually come under federal authority regarding medication.
When it comes to provocative image-laden issues like race-day medication, insider betting, and aggressive whip use by jockeys, my opinion or your opinion is anecdotal and irrelevant. What counts is how such matters are viewed by the betting cohort and the general public. An enterprise that does not maintain a generally favorable standing is on a slippery slope if not doomed.
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