A disgrace to the NFL?

DeBartolo Jr. gets into Pro Football Hall of Fame

The day before Sunday's Super Bowl, a number of star players were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A non-player also got in: Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., former owner of the San Francisco 49ers.

Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.

Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.

from DeBartoloDevelopment.com

The National Football League claims it wants to separate itself from gambling. This is feigned piety, because so many team owners through the years have been big-time gamblers, very often with ties to organized crime.

Let's take a look at DeBartolo Jr. His father, the late Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., purchased 90 percent of the 49ers in 1977 and gave the team to his son, DeBartolo Jr., then 30 years old, according to the bible on pro football's seamy past, Dan E. Moldea's Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football.

DeBartolo Sr., one of the nation's richest individuals, was a high roller who had appeared on the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Principal Subjects List and was described by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as "a very wealthy, powerful, influential person with organized crime connections." Moldea discusses a bunch of those unsavory connections in his book. DeBartolo Sr., an owner of several racetracks, had tried to buy Major League Baseball teams but had been turned down at least five times. The NFL approved his young son's ownership of the 49ers.

DeBartolo Jr. was an extremely successful owner: his teams won five Super Bowls and the players loved him for his generosity. But in 1998, DeBartolo Jr. pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to report that Louisiana's former governor extorted $400,000 from him to win a casino license. According to SFGate.com, DeBartolo first resisted, but finally agreed to pay the money in $100 bills to help him win a riverboat-gambling license. He later withdrew from the project when he was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the deal.

DeBartolo Jr. was fined $1 million and suspended for a year by the NFL. He turned over the team to his sister and ultimately decided not to return as 49ers owner. The married DeBartolo Jr. was accused of sexual assault by a Menlo Park cocktail waitress and reportedly paid $200,000 to settle the matter out of court, according to media reports.

If DeBartolo Jr. had been a player, not an owner, would he have received only a year's suspension and a $1 million fine from the league? The answer is probably no. A bunch of journalists vote a person into the hall and they are not supposed to consider any factors other than the candidate's contribution to the game. But DeBartolo Jr. — his winning record aside — disgraced the league. And isn't it about time to consider changing those rules? Pete Rose, who gambled on games, can't get into the Baseball Hall of Fame — justifiably, in my opinion.

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don bauder In 1963, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended indefinitely by Pete Rozelle after it was discovered that they had each regularly bet on the outcomes of their own team’s game, and for being seen with "friends" who were also reputed to have connections to gambling and organized crime. Each player admitted their actions. After missing the entire 1963 season, they were reinstated for the 1964 season. Hornung is in the NFL HoF.

danfogel: Oh yes, I remember that. I have heard there was more to the Hornung suspension than has been discussed, but that may just be latrine rumor.

In 1968, the NFL investigators traced Joe Namath to a bar habituated by gamblers. Namath was a part-owner. He was sternly warned. Art Modell went to Las Vegas and got married in the home of Billy Weinberger, president of the hyper-mobbed-up Caesars Palace. It ran on the society page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and there was nary a word from the NFL, to my knowledge. Best, Don Bauder

Ah yes, Broadway Joe and Bachelors III. Actually, Namath wasn't "sternly warned" He actually retired from football rather than sell his interest in the bar, after Pete Rozelle issued the ultimatum to either give up his interest in the bar or be suspended. Within a month or so, Namath changed his mind and sold his share and was allowed into training camp. But none of those individual you named actually were involved in betting on the outcome of their own teams games. Not justifying the NFL's inaction, simply pointing out that a couple of players did serve only a year long suspension and lost a year's pay, although even in today's dollars, it was considerably less than $1million. But then again, the average pay back then was in the neighborhood of $20k, as opposed to the NFL average of $2.1 million this past season, so I guess it's all relative.

danfogel: Of course, Hornung and Karras would have made much more than the $20,000 average.

I don't know whether Art Modell bet on his own team's games, and I doubt that the NFL knew. To my knowledge, the NFL did nothing about Modell getting married in the home of Billy Weinberger, head of Caesar's Palace. (Weinberger had been a Cleveland restaurateur who was in with the Cleveland mob, which went on to own Caesar's Palace.) The point is that the NFL disciplines players for consorting with gamblers but does next to nothing about owners doing the same. That's greatly because team owners from the league's beginning -- continuing to the present -- have been big gamblers, often tied to organized crime. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, I don't think that Hornung and Karras made as much as you think. I have seen Hornung's contract from the year before his suspension and it was for only $18,500.00, which was only slightly higher than his rookie contract for '57,'58,and 1959 at $15,000.00. I read once that when Hornung returned from suspension, he was paid what he would have made the year he was suspended and if I remember correctly, it was in the $20k neighborhood. I don't know how much Karras made, but I have read that before he started his rookie year, he went into professional wrestling. He signed a $25 k contract, which I believe he once said was more than double what he made when he signed his first football contract. That was in 1957 or 1958, so he would have made more in the early '60's,

danfogel: I have not seen those numbers so can't gainsay your statement. Actually, $20k was a pretty good salary in those days for someone his age.

The bottom line, however, would seem to be that when players made less (even inflation-adjusted) than they do now, there was much more temptation to fix point spreads by, say, missing a field goal, or even throwing a game. Best, Don Bauder

Chuck Radloff: I think DeBartolo's role with Louisiana former Gov. Edwards in that bribery case should have excluded DeBartolo from the hall of fame, if the NFL were really serious about scrubbing its gambling relationships. However, the league is NOT serious. Best, Don Bauder

With all we have seen and heard from the NFL over the previous decades there is only one conclusion. The NFL isn't about sportsmanship, it isn't about honest competition between athletes or athletic teams, it isn't about showing the nation how the sport should be played; rather, it is serious about making the maximum return on its team franchises. That sums it up completely.

Visduh: Oh yes -- of course. The be-all and end-all of professional football is owner profits. It's not a game at all. The NFL has been wedded to gamblers and the gambling industry since its founding almost a hundred years ago. The league claims it doesn't approve of gambling but that is a major source of profits. Best, Don Bauder

"The league claims it doesn't approve of gambling"

they don't approve of any that they do not get a cut of. that is.

Murphyjunk: Good point. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder I think that you are forgetting something. The NFL doesn't choose the inductees. That is done by the HoF Selection Committee. The HoF Selection Committee is basically made up of the media and consists of consists of one media representative from each pro football city, with two from New York, for obvious reasons. A 33rd member is a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America and there are 13 at-large delegates. The last time I looked at the list, all the at large people were media members. The San Diego rep is Nick Canepa.

danfogel: I think you didn't read the item closely enough. In the last paragraph, I state, "A bunch of journalists vote a person into the hall." I hope you are not suggesting that the NFL itself is divorced from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and leaves everything up to the journalists. The NFL doesn't work that way. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder No, I read that. I was giving the specifics of the committee. I meant to use the word specifically, rather than basically. And no I don't think that the NFL has their fingers out of the Hof pie, any more than MLB does, even though the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is operated by private interests. However, that being said, I am not nearly as jaded as you are and think the league probably is less influential in this area than you believe it to be.

Just my opinions.

Opinions vary.

On a separate note, with tomorrow being Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, one of my choices for atonement and self denial will be the abnegation of all social media, including commenting, for the duration of Lent. But I shall return in full force after Easter.

danfogel: Please don't give us up for Lent. We need you. You are extremely knowledgeable about such subjects as sports and the California constitution. I appreciate it when you correct me -- believe me, I do.

Incidentally, I once told a girlfriend that I was giving her up for Lent. When Lent was over, I contacted her for a date and found that she had given me up -- permanently! Best, Don Bauder

Oh no! Corruption, gambling and unsavory individuals in the NFL? I thought sports were supposed to be what all children aspire to. Who knew?

AlexClarke: Who knew? Anybody who did his/her homework. I will say this, however: the public does not want to hear about NFL corruption. I remember talking to a member of a Congressional subcommittee that had looked into doing a study on organized crime's influence on the NFL. The subcommittee found out in a hurry that the public just doesn't want to read about the slimy history of the league. Best, Don Bauder

God forbid that the public should be influenced with facts. Keep up the good work Don.

AlexClarke: If you watch the pre-game ceremonies in the NFL, you know that God is on the side of the league and not the public, which is being fleeced. Best, Don Bauder

Players and fans: Be a MAN or a WOMAN. Just don't suck up to criminal sociopaths.

Isn't the information on CTE enough to make you shake the habit?

Flapper: Whether chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) will make a dent in the NFL is a good question. I do think that over time, fewer young people will play Pop Warner and high school football. Over a long period of time, this will have to take a bite out of college football and the NFL. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: The league has been aware of the concussion dangers since the 1990s, and perhaps before. But it did nothing until players filed a lawsuit. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: The settlement short-changed the retired players. Surprised? Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: Banks and private sector businesses consider billion dollar-plus fines as merely a cost of doing business. Best, Don Bauder

These NFL types may have been born with dents in their heads. Maybe there's something to phrenology after all? Maybe they were head-butted in their wombs?

There need to be studies that follow-up on the performance (other than football) of people who played football as kids, especially crossing the helmet "divide."

Flapper: I think such a study might shed light on some important questions. Best, Don Bauder

Debartolo's father, Eddie Senior, was heavily involved with gamblers (and allegedly, the Mob) that lead to Sr.buying the 49ers with tainted funds and then handing over management and ownership to Eddie Jr.

Letting the De Bartolo family own the 49ers all these years was the height of hyprocrisy for the NFL

No surprise that Eddie Jr was caught taking bags of cash from the Governor of Louisiana in a kickback scheme for Riverboat gambling licenses.

Did the Feds/FBI/Justice Dept have Eddie Jr on wiretaps/tape taking the bribes and is that what caused him to hand the team over to his Sister Denise DeBartolo York?!

Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

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