"Larceny Games" author blows the whistle on pro sports
You might prefer baseball over football, or hockey over basketball. You might be a casual fan or a hardcore addict whose TV never leaves ESPN. You might be a Packers fan, or you might be wrong. No matter your sport or your team, however, when we sit down in our favorite recliner to watch a game, we hope for the same thing: A fair, honest and entertaining battle of athleticism and strategy where the best, most deserving and maybe luckiest team gets to claim the W when the final buzzer sounds.
At the minimum, that's what all fans want from sports. We wouldn't watch if it wasn't fair. According to Kenosha-based author Brian Tuohy, however, that's not what fans are getting. In fact, after years of watching sports with a keen, critical – and some might argue cynical – eye, Tuohy has come to a troubling conclusion.
Almost every sport you watch is a lie.
It's an argument that's formed the basis for Tuohy's literary career, including his latest book, "Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI." Tonight at 7 p.m., Tuohy will be coming to Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., to do a reading from his recently released exposé, which goes through several years and thousands of pages of FBI investigations on game fixing and gambling in professional sports. And almost no sport is safe.
Much to professional sports' certain chagrin, "Larceny Games" has gained a bit of a viral push thanks to one particular FBI file that Tuohy uncovered, investigating three members of the 1981-82 New York Knicks for fixing games and shaving points for their hard-gambling cocaine dealer. The New York Post caught wind of Tuohy's discovery, and the story has since gone viral, spreading to Yahoo! Sports, Fox News and The Daily Mail in the UK.
It's a nice moment of glory for Tuohy, whose first book, "The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR," earned him some dubious glares from loyal sports fans.
"When I would do interviews on the radio and elsewhere, a lot of sports radio hosts would say to me, 'Well, you can't fix games. Games have never been fixed. This is all just crazy,'" Tuohy said. "And it got me angry, to be honest."
Near the end of writing "The Fix Is In," however, Tuohy stumbled upon the knowledge that the FBI had investigated several major sports leagues for game fixing. Two years and several FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests later, the author gathered up over 400 files worth of incriminating information on almost every major league sport (the NHL manages to go unscathed in this book).
"The NFL says they've never had a game fixed by gamblers or organized crime ever, and baseball says no game has been fixed since the 1919 World Series," Tuohy said. "All of these FBI files that I've obtained would really call that into question."
Tuohy admitted that he, the FBI and any others who believe in the fixing of professional sports all run into the same problem: There's often no concrete evidence of a fix being in on a game. Even information gathered from quality, reliable sources – some of which are referred to in the files as top echelon informants – isn't usually enough to validate arrests or convictions.
"Sometimes they tried to get wiretaps, but by the time they got authorized to use them, it was all over," Tuohy said. "After a while, they really just quit investigating stuff, which is the really frightening part."
In the end, Tuohy and "Larceny Games" were able to gather a collection of evidence from the FBI files that may be circumstantial, but it's also eerily convenient.
"The thing the FBI had multiple times – or at least according to these files – was that they would have credible information prior to a game that would say they think this player or this referee is working with this gambler, and we've seen this strange money show up on a game, and the odds on a game have changed," Tuohy said. "Then the results of the game pretty much matched the information the FBI had ahead of time."
Tuohy wasn't always a leading crusader for the sports conspiracy cause. The author used to be a Baltimore Orioles fan, as well as a Boston Bruins fan, before he began digging into the sports world's secrets. Now, the Midwest-based author has managed to do what many have found too difficult: take off the perspective of a fan and look at the sports world with a new, objective angle.
"My fan hat got blown off five or six years ago," Tuohy said. "I don't have a fan hat anymore. After doing all of this investigating, digging and interviewing, I just can't look at sports in the same way. I can't. I see them only as big businesses, which is what they are. The NFL made $10 billion last year. That's not really a sport. That's something completely different."
Sometimes it's a specific scenario or event that rings of conspiracy or corruption (in the case of the power outage at last year's Super Bowl, he finds it interesting that, despite our fear of terrorism, no one seemed to panic, including the NFL commissioner, who "reportedly didn't even get out of his seat"). Other times, it's an entire joint industry, like the potentially complicit sports media world.
"The NFL is funded by – and this is going to sound like a conspiracy theorist talking – four of the five largest media conglomerates in this country," Tuohy said. "They get $6 billion a year from these media outlets. That's more than half of the money the NFL earns every year. Do you honestly think that those media outlets are going to do serious investigative reporting against a company they give a billion dollars to every year?"
It's not just professional sports leagues either that draw Tuohy's critical eye. In fact, when asked what league is currently the most corrupt, the author responded with the NCAA. The corruption is so engrained into college sports that Tuohy actually believes the best solution is simply to blow it all up.
"The thing that frightens me is we have middle school kids, maybe even younger than that, who are instantly recognized as being athletically gifted," Tuohy argued.
"So they're treated specially in middle school, and then they get to high school. They become the star quarterback there, and they're recruited by these colleges. These colleges are paying the kids under the table so they come to their school. Come junior or senior year, suddenly he's recruited by agents under the table again, paying them and giving them special benefits. They corrupt them, sign them and get them into the majors. Here's a guy who, from the age of 12, has known nothing about sports besides the corruptive elements of it."
Ideas like destroying the NCAA have certainly earned the author his share of heated debates from fans. But Tuohy knows he's doing something important, especially as an outsider to a sports media industry with a dangerous amount invested in the product, and something worthy of honest discussion.
"Even if I'm wrong 99 percent of the time about these conspiracies, it's the one percent that I get right that should make you go wait a second," Tuohy said. "The thing with 'Larceny Games' is that none of it is conspiracy. It's straight up fact from FBI files. If you don't want to believe it, you have a problem with reality."
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