Did a Bet­ting Pool Cross the Line?

The Washington Post Sunday - - Letters To The Editor -

Should sports re­porters be al­lowed to bet on events they cover? Of course not, es­pe­cially since most sports bet­ting is il­le­gal. But does that ex­tend to a pool, com­mon in many news­rooms and of­fices?

Reader Bill Sul­li­van of the Dis­trict raised the ques­tion af­ter a blog­ger, Sean Jensen of AOL Sports, said he par­tic­i­pated in a “high price” pool while cov­er­ing the Masters golf tour­na­ment in Au­gusta, Ga., with renowned Post colum­nist Tom Boswell; Leonard Shapiro, a for­mer Post staffer who cov­ers golf on con­tract; and John Fe­in­stein, a best-sell­ing au­thor and Post free­lancer.

Sul­li­van called the pool “dis­turb­ing” and said it “would ap­pear to be a deeply se­ri­ous breach of jour­nal­ism ethics,” es­pe­cially be­cause “Boswell and Shapiro had crit­i­cized ath­letes for gam­bling be­cause it has a cor­rupt­ing in­flu­ence on the sport.

“Do Post edi­tors con­done this sort of con­duct — par­tic­u­larly since the bets were placed on an event the re­porters were cov­er­ing for the pa­per? How much was wa­gered and how long has it been go­ing on? How do the re­porters jus­tify their moral crit­i­cisms of oth­ers when they them­selves en­gage in the same il­le­gal be­hav­ior?”

The pool is a tra­di­tion go­ing back about 25 years in a house rented by Boswell, Shapiro and other sportswrit­ers who cover the Masters, Boswell said. Fe­in­stein joined about 15 years ago. Jensen was the new guy in the house.

The stakes were $50 apiece for five peo­ple. Boswell said there are “a bunch of silly cat­e­gories and no one wins much.” Shapiro was the big win­ner, with a to­tal of $103 in three cat­e­gories. Boswell won $16.67. Fe­in­stein won noth­ing. “Ex­cept for a few horse races or a [per­sonal] golf game, I’ve never bet on any­thing else in my life,” Boswell said. Shapiro said the same.

Shapiro’s and Boswell’s ar­ti­cles have crit­i­cized high-stakes gam­bling as it af­fected play­ers and man­agers who pre­sum­ably could af­fect the out­come of games. Boswell said the house is not a high-stakes party pad but the “milk and Oreos” house, where a six­pack of beer bought at the tour­na­ment’s start still had three left at the end. “We come back af­ter the day and watch high­lights and tease each other about” their pool picks.

Fe­in­stein, in an e-mail, wrote, “NO, I’ve never bet on any­thing dur­ing my years at The Post. In fact, this year I didn’t even par­tic­i­pate in the pool be- cause I was too tired to stay up. I put up the 50 bucks as a cour­tesy to the other guys and they picked my team for me. I was the only one in the house to not win a dol­lar for the week. . . . This is done in houses all around Au­gusta for fun and laughs — and is a way of giv­ing ev­ery­one some­thing to talk about dur­ing the week. As in, ‘who had the low round to­day?’ That’s about as se­ri­ous as it gets.”

Emilio Gar­cia-Ruiz, as­sis­tant man­ag­ing ed­i­tor for sports, said, “I’m con­fi­dent that the small-scale pool in no way af­fected the cov­er­age of the event and was a 25-year tra­di­tion that was started only to bol­ster ca­ma­raderie for those liv­ing to­gether while cov­er­ing the event. That said, we’ve stressed to our folks that prizes for th­ese sorts of pools, in­clud­ing the NCAA tour­na­ment, should not in­volve cash, no mat­ter how small the amount.” The Post has no writ­ten rule on bet­ting.

Ge­orge Solomon, a for­mer Post sports ed­i­tor and ESPN om­buds­man who is now a Univer­sity of Mary­land jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor, sees no prob­lem with “a recre­ational pool”; he was in the Masters pool when en­ter­ing cost $10, and he went for Ben Ho­gan and Sam Snead. Bet­ting “a lot of money on a team or in­di­vid­ual is al­ways wrong,” he said.

Mal­colm Mo­ran, who holds the Knight Chair in Sports Jour­nal­ism and So­ci­ety at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity, said, “I wouldn’t call [the Masters pool] se­ri­ous. For my­self, I don’t get in­volved in pools.”

Mo­ran, a for­mer sports jour­nal­ist at the New York Times, News­day and USA To­day, be­lieves there ought to be rules as there are at the Times, which states in its ethics pol­icy: “To avoid an ap­pear­ance of bias, no mem­ber of the sports de­part­ment may gam­ble on any sports event, ex­cept for oc­ca­sional recre­ational wager­ing on horse rac­ing (or dog rac­ing or jai alai). This ex­cep­tion does not ap­ply to staff mem­bers who cover such rac­ing or reg­u­larly edit that cov­er­age.” The Times’ pro­hi­bi­tion does not ap­ply to pools, said Craig Whit­ney, stan­dards ed­i­tor.

Long­time Post horserac­ing writer Andrew Beyer, now a free­lancer, does gam­ble and writes about it, as do many rac­ing writ­ers. Mo­ran said, “Just be­cause it’s in the cul­ture doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.” Beyer once won $200,000 and wrote about it. Now that gives me se­ri­ous pause. Beyer did not re­spond to a phone mes­sage.

Many news­rooms — like many of­fices — have sports pools; I never stopped them when I was an ed­i­tor. The Post’s in­ter­nal NCAA pool was changed this year to make the top prize an iPod in­stead of cash. Just as well; a com­pany lawyer won it.

The Masters pool is not a grave eth­i­cal mat­ter, but The Post should have writ­ten rules to guide sports jour­nal­ists on bet­ting. This an­swer didn’t please Sul­li­van, who wrote, “Re­porters go af­ter oth­ers with zeal while be­liev­ing that the rules don’t ap­ply to them and that they are above re­proach. Ac­count­abil­ity for thee but not for me.”

Maybe the Masters bets next year should be in Oreos, not cash. Deb­o­rah Howell can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at om­buds­man@ wash­post.com.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.