We're sending the wrong messages

Rest assured that there will be a public outcry regarding the recent revelations about gambling on college sports. Parents, teachers, administrators, clerics and self-styled experts in the talk show milieu will profess to be shocked that such a significant percentage of our kids could be falling prey to the wicked urge to gamble.

As revelations tumble out of NCAA and law enforcement sources the same people will be awed by the amounts of money pumped out of college students' pockets and charged to their daddys' credit cards by today's slickest of scams, the sports betting business.

I have a question for every thinking person: Why? Why should we be surprised? What we have is precisely what we should predict when we prop up the old shell game for our children's consumption on a daily basis.

Think about the constant barrage of legitimizing, sanitizing and pasteurizing we churn out:

"Come see us for the best shows, the most fun, the All-American city of Las Vegas! Where everyone has a good time, everyone celebrates 24 hours a day, and everyone is rich!"


"Get rich quick! Help pay for education in our state! Get something for nothing! Play the lottery today!"


"Let us now do the moral thing. Let us repay Native Americans for their tragic losses through the years. The best way to do that? Gambling casinos, of course!"

The shock and awe should be over why there is not more gambling on our campuses. Virtually everything we say and do presents our children with the message that it is not only OK, but downright American to engage in games of chance with a little wager on the line. Sadly, not everyone can place little wagers. Like all other addictive pursuits, gambling snares the innocent who have a weakness, hooks them like careless brook trout, and destroys them.

One of the hardest things for fans to remember is that athletes are just our kids. They are subject to the same influences and conditioning that affect non-athletes. They are just as tempted by the allure of the quick fix as the rest of us. And let's face it, the quick fix is the national addiction in our country today.

What all this means is that coaches have a big job trying to compete with societal messages. If I stand in front of my team -- as I did many times -- and decry the evils of gambling, speaking from the platform of head coach authority, I will probably reach a majority of my players. But I will probably not reach all of them.

Our coach in Green Bay, the redoubtable Vince Lombardi, used to warn us this way: "Men, the gamblers will do anything to defile our sport. I'm telling you that if you have a compound fracture of your arm and your Mom calls and asks how you are doing, you tell her you are just fine! If I find out you have revealed anything about our team to those people, I will see that you never play another down in the NFL!"

Now that is shock and awe, but not everyone is Vince Lombardi.

I used to argue regularly with John Unitas about the gamblers. He thought they had infiltrated our team at times, and I insisted that was not possible. If we were playing today I might not be so sure. Try this case as a hypothetical possibility:

The tailback is a great player. He has led his team to the big show, the BCS national championship game. The night before the game he receives a call from an "agent", who says, "You know what, if I let it be known that you have taken $50,000 and a nice S.U.V. from me, you might not play in this game. What I want you to do is put the ball on the ground the first four times you carry it tomorrow."

The tailback thinks long and hard, his life flashing before his eyes. He responds, "I could never do that to my teammates. I carried the ball over 400 times this year without a fumble. I screwed up taking that money for my mom, so if you decide to talk, I will just have to suffer the consequences."

Now the "agent" plays his hole card. He whispers, "Now listen carefully. Either you do as I say or we will have to break both your legs. Do you understand?"

Now that, sports fans, is also shock and awe. The keys to preventing this kind of scenario are not simple, but they do exist. Law enforcement, a special division of the NCAA, the NFL, and the American Football Coaches Association are all working every day at educating our student athletes.

Let's hope they are enough.

ESPN college football analyst Bill Curry coached for 17 years in the college ranks. His Game Plans for marquee matchups appear each week during the college football season.