Continuing our discussion of the public’s attitude towards poker, and how the tide overall appears to be turning from traditionally strong opposition to broad acceptance, we focus on one American-born institution that cannot seem to face its fear of poker: baseball.
As a sociology major in college I remember learning the concept of a ‘social fact’ as originally defined by Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology. There may be perceptions about a social group or community, but the way you know if they really exist…if they are indeed social facts…is if you cross that invisible boundary causing a reaction. For example, Don Imus learned a social fact of American racial boundaries when advertisers pulled the plug on his show after he called Rutgers female basketball players, all African American, nappy headed ho’s.
Major league baseball appears to have a strong social fact related to gambling which extends to poker. We all know that people bet on sports. We also know that there have always been big heavyweight betters with ties to organized crime whose wagering can have an influence on the outcome of the game itself. The 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” involving the fixing of the World Series led to the creation of the first commissioner of baseball. And then we have Pete Rose’s betting on baseball scandal of the late 80s where he broke baseball’s rule 21 whereby anyone associated with on-field play (players, coaches, umpires, etc.) is prohibited from betting on baseball games. These events and their backlashes are understandable. However, in 2011 we heard stories reported in the tabloids about Yankee’s franchise player Alex Rodriguez being involved in a home poker game held by a record producer. The Commissioner’s office said that A-Rod could face a suspension if it was proven he had been at the games.
To me this is way different than betting on baseball where he has a chance to affect the outcome of the game. He was playing in a high stakes game with poker pros, Hollywood stars, and big money executives. I wouldn’t expect him to play in a local $20 buy-in game…what would be the point? Why is baseball putting all gambling off limits? The way the stories read in ESPN, New York papers and magazines, etc., was as if playing high stakes was the alleged violation…as if A-Rod would feel the sting of a $10,000 bet on his 10-year contract worth $275 million. The story also mentioned that drugs were used by a few people hanging out (not A-Rod). Welcome to Hollywood my friends. It’s not Disneyland. Finally someone attempted to explain that where there is poker there are people who are likely to bet on sports. Again, no surprise here. You will also find people who bet on sports may also smoke, drink, and stay out past ten on weeknights.
Does Major League Baseball have the right to restrict its players from anything a sports better might be involved in? The sad thing is I did not see anyone jump to A-Rod’s defense. So the end result is baseball is not helping poker’s image even though poker seems to have gained widespread public acceptance over the past 10 years. Perhaps baseball’s top brass should sit back, relax in a comfy chair at a nice poker table, and take in a friendly poker game the next time one of their friends hosts at their baseball-themed man cave. Maybe they will see that players deserve to do the same without fear of a lifetime suspension hanging over their heads.