| DON'T LIKE to write columns focusing on what other columnists have written, because I know what it's like to have lots of people criticize your every word. Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, whose writing ability far exceeds his moral judgment (he once took his teenage son to a swimsuit shoot), has long been an exception to this unwritten rule of mine; ESPN The Magazine's Bill Simmons, almost as talented and equally off-center as Reilly, is now on that list.|
My beef isn't so much with Simmons -- he's not a writer you can take too seriously -- as it is with the sentiment he voices, a sentiment shared by a disturbing number of people: Gambling is harmless.
In writing about golfer John Daly, whose enormous talent is matched only by his immense appetite for self-destruction, Simmons asked this disingenuous question about pro athletes who gamble: "What's irresponsible about losing millions when you have more money than you'll ever need?"
If there were no needy people in this world, I suppose his point couldn't be argued. Not that I believe in guilting folks into charity (the motivation should be as pure as possible), but to waste such abundant resources at a blackjack table or on a Super Bowl bet is unconscionable.
Simmons goes on to say that "fans are brainwashed into believing gambling is dangerous, that it's a potential gateway to self-destruction, that it can destroy your life if you aren't careful, that everyone is a few errant bets away from a lifetime of depressing Gamblers Anonymous meetings .... Gambling is bad. Or so we're told."
That statement is so packed with delusion, I don't know where to begin picking it apart. Gambling is dangerous, it can ruin lives, it can cost you your family and dignity, and it is intrinsically bad. If Simmons thinks otherwise, he should visit a casino and watch some poor sap pour his entire paycheck into a slot machine; he should look at how crime statistics skyrocket in areas where casinos spring up; he should consider the pathetic hopes of those who snap up lottery tickets every week; he should look at all the good left undone because the filthy rich are more concerned with making their lives even more exciting than they are with making others' lives more bearable.
I'm not trying to promote class envy; there is nothing wrong with being rich. But with great wealth, as with great power, comes great responsibility. Or as Jesus put it in Luke 12:48, "To whom much is given, much is required."
I said gambling is bad, and I think the Bible says as much, though not explicitly. The passage most often cited as a condemnation of gambling is Luke 23:34, when the Roman soldiers cast lots for the crucified Christ's garments. I always thought that was poor apologetics. Yes, what they were doing was wrong, but not because of the other events surrounding it or because of who they were. In fact, it wasn't even gambling.
We know gambling is wrong because of God's directive to be good stewards of what we are given. Therein lies the problem -- too many of us, especially the rich, believe their wealth was earned. In a sense, it was, but only because God allowed it. Therefore, guys like Daly see gambling as a place "where competitive juices can get a victimless workout," as Simmons put it. It's ironic that he writes this about a man who, as an accompanying article revealed, was deep in debt because of his gambling.
You make yourself a victim when you chase after sin, because sin will turn back on you and control you. Daly and many other athletes are, judging from how often they wager, addicted to gambling. Simmons makes an insightful point that this is how their competitiveness transfers from the playing fields into everyday life, the latter of which rarely reflects reality much more than the former for these guys. But that doesn't make it healthy.
Simmons tries to head off criticism such as mine by saying we're all hypocrites when it comes to gambling. He cites our casual use of point spreads, and he says, "Everyone participates in this hypocrisy." By "everyone," I assume he doesn't actually mean every human on Earth, just every sports fan on Earth. Such superlatives reveal ignorance, as not "everyone" takes point spreads as meaningful (they're a crock, in fact). Yes, I've been guilty of checking the spread when picking football winners for my newspaper; Simmons has at least convicted me to stop doing that.
What Simmons is doing is gambling with the truth. He's assuming the Bible and common sense are wrong. He'll lose that bet every time.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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