Press and Sun-Bulletin/December 19, 1946
It certainly is not the duty of our newspapers to act as detective agencies, but it is my belief that we have been careless in our treatment of the rise of gambling in both amateur and professional sports, when we should have been alert.
The point-spread system of syndicate betting is a recent development whose sole function is to promote illegal gambling by amateurs, meaning the public, against the professional syndicates. The odds are against the amateurs, or customers, and yet we regularly print these quotations in advance of the games, knowing that the only result is that we act as a sort of accomplice for a tribe of parasitic outlaws who give themselves all the better of it in these figures.
I disagree with my colleague, Lewis Burton, of the sports side of the New York Journal-American, when he says, “the news of the odds is as important as the condition of the teams and a reporter failing to note this would be delinquent.”
THE LATE Joe Patterson, of the News, had a mischievous streak of cynicism which moved him to insist that “the people” liked to gamble and that a newspaper shouldn’t police their morals but ought to give them what they want. But he forgot that “the people” also had decided that gambling was an evil and had passed laws against it. They were policing their own morals.
I think that is where the defect lies in the reasoning of Mr. Burton and some other sport-side editors and writers who justify the display of these odds on the ground of public demand. At the very best, “the people” are certain to be trimmed, for the proposition is not an even thing and the percentage rides in favor of the men who decide the odds.
IT IS AN underworld activity, as every newspaperman knows, and although the lines are not very clearly drawn as yet, we may be sure that if this sort of gambling continues and increases we will find that we have helped to create another arrogant and absolutely defiant underworld system as powerful as the mobs of Prohibition days.
It could be even more dangerous, because newspaper connivance or encouragement will give these criminals moral support or prestige and their racket is much more facile than bootlegging was.
DAMON RUNYON made the underworld amusing, but if you read his fiction stories I think you must have noted that most of his characters were actually very cruel. Their humor was brutal. And, at that, Damon gave them more than a shade the better of it in his character drawing, for he was the humorist who made them funny when, actually, they are almost all ignorant, harsh and without that honor that is sometimes believed to exist among thieves.
Some of the lowest things in more or less human form infesting the Miamis during the hibernation season of the criminal scum, and Broadway and Hollywood, now regard themselves as rather pleasant institutions, celebrities if you will, because they think Damon described them faithfully and quoted them verbatim.
He didn’t, though. He was writing fiction all the time and nobody knew better than he that true portrayals would have made them repulsive.
I THINK WE would help to maintain decency in sports by sharply segregating the people of sports from the dirty characters of the underworld. We could do that by keeping gamblers and gangsters and Hollywood and radio trash off the sport pages, even in the guise of quaint and amusing illiterates.
And if we are sincere in our solicitude we might cancel out the point-spread quotations hereafter inasmuch as no man can argue that they have any other purpose than to facilitate an illegal traffic tending inevitably to the corruption of sport.