Written by Graham Brunell

After a 61-foul (including two technicals and a flagrant) NBA Playoff game (3) between the Cavaliers and Magic, I felt I had to bring up a somewhat touchy point -- the possibility of altered outcomes in professional sports.

The definition of physical in sports these days is not what it used it be... to say the least. Referees, umpires, you name it, they are all eager to blow the whistle or issue a warning whether the intention was there or not. The amount of fouls in today's NBA is nothing short of horrendous (as shown in the example above), as well as the amount of fouls, ejections, etc. It all depends on the sport being played.

After the conviction of NBA referee Tim Donaghy (found guilty of gambling on NBA games), there has been a lot of suspicion throughout the Association. After an altercation between NBA referee Joey Crawford and Tim Duncan, many people surmised that he could have been one of the gambling officials in the league.

Another example: the game 6 battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 WCFs was perhaps one of the worst officiated games ever in the history of professional sports. The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter, something that would have put them on pace for 108 free throws if they began the game like that. Donaghy told the media that two of the three referees participating in that game 6 called fouls in favor of L.A. to send the series to a game 7, a game that was eventually won by the Lakers.

Another example (although this one was undoubtedly manipulated either in exchange for a reward or because the umpire was instructed to do so by the league)...

During game 2 of the 2005 ALCS between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, there was a critical and possibly even series-changing call. White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzinski was at the plate with two outs and the game tied 1-1. Angels relief pitcher Kelvim Escobar threw what was apparently a "very low" splitter to Pierzinski, who had swung at a pitch that everyone thought had ended the game.

However umpire Doug Eddings had thought that the ball was not caught by catcher Josh Paul, and hadn't clearly signaled that the play resulted in a no-catch. Pierzinski then ran to first as the Angels walked off the field thinking they had won the game, and as the batter reached first base, the umpire had called him safe. Here's Eddings after the game, in an attempt to clarify his actions during the at-bat.

"My interpretation is that was my 'strike three' mechanic, when it's a swinging strike. If you watch, that's what I do the whole entire game. ... I did not say 'No catch.' If you watch the play, you do watch me -- as I'm making the mechanic, I'm watching Josh Paul, and so I'm seeing what he's going to do. I'm looking directly at him while I'm watching Josh Paul. That's when Pierzynski ran to first base."

So you call strike three... but you don't mean strike three. That... sounds a little fishy. But maybe it's just me.

Since this is a Celtics blog, I'll give you a quick example most of you may recall from last year's NBA Eastern Conference Finals. During the final game (6) of the Eastern Conference Finals between the C's and the hated Detroit Pistons, there were a few calls that made me raise my eyebrows. But there was one call so ridiculous that I couldn't help but jump out of my seat. During a crucial part of the game, Paul Pierce had sunken a three-pointer while being rushed out to by a Pistons defender. However, Pierce not only made the three, but knocked it down despite conspicuous contact between the Pistons defender and Pierce.

To put it simply, the defender basically sprinted towards Pierce, rose up into the air, and hacked at the basketball. Pierce then proceeded to fall backwards, stumbling in the direction of the scorers table. What happened next however, was the real surprise. The referee (Bennett Salvatore) called an OFFENSIVE foul on Pierce, and took away what I thought was going to be an easy four-point play. He's lucky the C's won that game, or I would have wrote a letter to the league demanding a punishment for Salvatore.

But that was not the only negative feelings I would have about Salvatore. In future games when Salvatore was part of the crew of officials, it seemed that Salvatore would not cut Pierce any slack, and anyone paying attention to the game could sense Salvatore's obvious disfavoring for Pierce.

And it's not just the games. It is projects or activities that take place outside of the exhibitions. During the Mitchell Report (a set of inspectors MLB commissioner Bud Selig hired to convict the performance-enhancing drug users of the league), an innumerable amount of players were humiliated and recognized as players who had tarnished the game because of their drug use. George Mitchell, the man running this operation, was employed by the Boston Red Sox in the past. Isn't it strange that no Red Sox players that were presently part of the team in that year were found guilty? Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a coincidence.

After a few examples, I wanted to inform you of a difference in my word choice when giving my personal take on this topic. Notice I've been using the word manipulated, and not "fixed" or "rigged." Why? Because although fixing a game may involve money or other temptations to lead an official to potentially blow the game, "fixed" also requires the specific game to be altered because of peer pressure. Manipulating a game can bring up many more possibilities. For example, let's say an official has a disliking for another player, coach, and although rare, an entire team. He/she changes the course of the game to the best of his abilities not because of a temptation or pressure from peers, but purely because he/she was not fond of the player/coach/team.

The worst part is, it may not be manipulated. Surprising huh? Well here's why: if the referees had truly intended to legally call all 61 fouls in game 3, then sports have officially gone soft. There's really no way around it.

So what are your thoughts? Are professional sports manipulated?

Readers: please keep in mind that his was in no way suggesting that all professional leagues are manipulated, and in no way was it saying that all games had been altered.


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