The Gambler

In Slick Rick, we got what we paid for.

I DONT HAVE A HORSE in this race. Mossback is neither Husky nor Cougar. Yes, you guessed it, Im 100 percent pure Geoduck. I went to The Evergreen State College, where the only organized sport was stoner Frisbee.

But I have to confess some sympathy for Rick Neuheisel, the University of Washingtons overpaid jerk football coach who is being run out of town on a rail for being the overpaid jerk he was hired to be.

His next coaching stop might be at Gambling State or Bill Bennett Bible College. But why are people so worked-up about his apparent transgression of NCAA rules regarding gambling? For those who havent been following the brouhaha, Neuheisel got together with a few millionaire pals and plunked a few harmless gs down in a college basketball betting pool. The bets were substantial in lay-people terms. Estimates are he put down about $6,400 and won $12,100, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer in a June 10 story. That bet for Neuheiselwho earns about $1.4 million per yearis roughly equivalent to a person who makes $50,000 a year making a $129 bet, according to the P-I. In other words, essentially peanuts (or at least about the cost of a bag of Safeco Field peanuts.)

This is hardly indicative of a gambling problem, especially in a state where casino gambling is booming on reservations, where the politicians have been considering allowing big-time gambling off-reservation, and where weve come to depend on the stupidity of people (like me) who throw hard-earned cash at Lotto tickets. (I like to tell myself its for the kids, since our school systems would be nearly bankrupt without the filthy lucre of legal gambling.)

Education in this state is partly funded by gambling revenue. Yet the highest-paid public employee in the state, who works for our most highly regarded educational institution, is dinged for betting his own money on his own time.

SOME PEOPLE THINK his gambling is unseemly; others object to the large amounts bet by Neuheisel and his friends. But if were making this guy a millionaire for coaching a kids game, why punish him for behaving like a millionaire kid? This is the Rick Neuheisel we hired; this is the Rick Neuheisel we overpay. Lets not punish him for having a little fun, let alone being who he isor being who we are.

Is he a role model? Well, hes reflecting what most contemporary adult sports fans do themselves. Just check the sports pages or sports radio stations for gambling info. Its in with the box scores. You cant avoid it whether you gamble or not.

Betting on your own sports or being involved with professional gamblers is one thing. Be clear: Neuheisel is no Pete Rose.

One question raised is whether the coach knew whether this type of gambling activity was forbidden. Apparently, the rules were enough to confuse even Dana Richardson, the UWs person in charge of reading and interpreting NCAA regulations for the school, who apparently cleared gambling in private pools. That was wrong, and ignorance of the law is no excuse. The NCAA says the coach should have known. Plus, he has a track record of breaking or stretching the rules. He was hired to be what they call aggressive. Hes been that.

And coaches should be aggressive, because football, after all, is a living testament to testosterone-fueled primitive violence, but in a controlled setting. Which is why Mossback likes to watch football and why football needs to be coached by people who are not necessarily people of great character. Mike Price, the former head Dont-Call-it-Wazoo football coach, recently lost his job at Alabama because of character issuesif you call getting sloshed in a strip bar and waking up with strange women in your room a character problem. As a Clinton-lover, I do not. I call it presidential.

NEVERTHELESS, THE RULES of football do not necessarily translate well into the outside world, except in war or on Wall Street. Take Howell Raines, the recently deposed executive editor of The New York Times. His hero was legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant (which almost rhymes with tyrant). Yet, when he brought Bears bully-boy values to the most vaunted newsroom in America, it resulted in a disaster. Raines reign of terror ended quickly, despite the fact the Times won seven Pulitzer prizes last year. His biggest crime: modeling himself on the kind of jerk that wins a lot of football games.

Despite the P.R. job we get from boosters, alums, fan groups, and some sportswriters, what makes a good coachor a good player—does not necessarily translate into being a good citizen. And we dont want to be entertained by good citizens. If we did, Survivor and Seventh Heaven wouldnt be TV hits. And our gladiator sports, like football, wouldnt be such big money makers. And yes, that includes highly lucrative college football.

If a guy or gal commits a crime, as many Husky players have, fine. Punish them with the full force of the law. But if a coach breaks a rule to do something he is legally entitled to do, well, slap his wrist, or even fire his buttbut please spare us the moralizing about money, gambling, millionaires, and bad behavior.

kberger@seattleweekly.com

 
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