A couple of days ago, I wrote one serious comment about the press coverage of the Aaron Hernandez affair and a couple of snarky ones. Charles P. Pierce is a columnist for Grantland.com in addition to other publications. He wrote an entire column on the tawdry nature of the press coverage of the Aaron Hernandez affair and about the way “celebrity murder stories” are overdone in the press. You do want to read this column in its entirety; it is outstanding. Here is the fifth paragraph of the story just to whet your appetite:
“The dynamic of celebrity murder is as odious as it is inevitable. It requires the media — and the complicit public, namely us — to invest ourselves in the notion that some murders are more heinous than others, more worthy of our attention than others, and, therefore, that some victims are more lamentable than others, with all the moral ambivalence that calculation obviously entails. A celebrity murder also requires of the media that creates it an insatiable appetite for anything and everything that can be attached to The Case; a multimedia black hole is created, sucking in all information that comes within its zone of darkness. Cousins are interviewed. Hell, the diaper-service guy for the house down the block gets interviewed. Theories are propounded. Long-distance psychoanalysis is practiced. Big Thoughts are thought and, worse, expressed, about What It All Means, when, really, all it means is that human beings will kill each other, which we learned back in the early chapters of the Bible, remember? Nancy Grace rises from the box of fresh earth in which she sleeps every night to stalk the cable landscape, feeding vicariously on the blood of the victim.”
When one hears about officials being worried that a sporting endeavor may be “fixed”, one’s thoughts might turn to boxing matches, horse races, college basketball games, soccer games in places other than the US and surely to pro ‘rassling contests. Not today. According to the London Daily Mail, “match fixing experts” – whoever they may be – are fearful that as many as a dozen corrupt tennis players may be involved in Wimbledon. Say what? Tennis is not normally thought of as the seamy underbelly of sports in the same way that boxing might be; the country club set whereby Biff and Muffy take down the club mixed doubles championship for the year and then repair to the bar for chocolate martinis is not often thought of in the same paragraph with point shavers. Until now…
For example, did you know that international tennis has something called the TIU – the Tennis Integrity Unit – whose mission is to eradicate match fixing in tennis? Until I read the article in the Daily Mail, I did not – even though it has existed for the last four years. Possibly one of the reasons for my ignorance here – as opposed to my general level of ignorance – is that the TIU functions completely in secret and does not discuss or divulge any of its activities at any time. Wow. Imagine landing the job as the Director of Public Relations for TIU; that would have to be the easiest job is sports.
The policy of absolute secrecy has led some folks to conclude that the TIU cannot or will not deal with integrity issues involving “big name players” and only pursues the little guys. Obviously, the policy of absolute secrecy makes it impossible to prove or disprove that assertion but that kind of “absence of data” is manna from Heaven for conspiracy theorists. Funding for the TIU comes from the Association of Tennis Professionals and the International Tennis Federation and from the four major tournaments in the world of tennis. Obviously, conclude the conspiracy theorists, those folks do not want the “big name players” getting a lifetime ban from the sport. Ergo…
What data alerts the TIU hounds to focus in like a laser beam on suspicious match results? As with college basketball point-shaving scandals, it is wagering information. Tennis matches do not draw much attention at all in Las Vegas; I do not recall ever being in Las Vegas during one of the four tennis majors so I cannot say if the sportsbooks there will take action on those tournaments. However, when I have been in Las Vegas at other times of the year, I cannot find any obvious way to “get down” on a specific match that weekend or to place a “future wager” on the winner of an upcoming tournament. However, European sportsbooks and Internet sportsbooks do take tennis action. A friend who lives in the UK tells me that horseracing and soccer take the most betting action there but that tennis is third on the list in terms of handle.
The conspiracy atmosphere here has also found its way into the legal processes involved in the sport. According to the Daily Mail report, a lawyer who represented some Italian tennis players who were serving a short ban and who had been fined for “betting infringements” used the conspiracy theory as part of their defense. He accused the tennis mavens of going after “low hanging fruit” and ignoring the problem of star players fixing matches.
Here in the Washington DC area, there is a generally ignored pro tennis tournament held in the middle of the summer heat. [Aside: No one – as in not a single soul – has ever moved to Washington DC because of the great weather.] Most of the best players in the world find reasons to skip this event preferring to take a week off and rearrange their sock drawers instead of playing in those conditions. However, there are always a couple of “name players” who commit to the tournament and whose name and image are used as the drawing card for the event. Folks in Washington who follow that tournament have become very accustomed to seeing those “face of the tournament players” suffer an early round upset when the temperature is in the 90s and the humidity is such that one might consider growing gills to help with one’s breathing. Folks, it happens.
Fixing any game that involves only one player is just not that difficult. A double-fault here or there, a cross-court volley that goes wide… Those things happen in every match so how might one discern when they happen in a “tanked match”?
Finally, in the spirit of conspiracy theories and fixed sporting endeavors, allow me to channel Carnac the Magnificent for a moment:
Answer: A Broadway play, an Oscar-winning movie and the NBA Finals.
Question: What are three things that have a script?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………