Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I never attempted interviewing Tim Donaghy

“Why didn’t you try to interview Tim Donaghy?”  

I have been asked this (perfectly fair) question many times in the past month or so while discussing my new book which features a detailed examination of the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal, and will humor answering it more fully here for others to reference.

As I explain in Gaming the Game, at the onset of the research in March 2008, I planned to attempt interviewing the former NBA referee.  In time, however, I discovered how many demonstrably false claims Donaghy has made, and decided against trying to contact him.    

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary offers the following definitions of “lie”:
1a. an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive;
1b. an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker;
2. something that misleads or deceives
You’ll easily note that the key distinction between “1a” and the other definitions of “lie” concerns the mindset of the speaker.  Using the lesser standards (i.e., “1b” and “2”), Tim Donaghy is without doubt a pathological liar. 

The stricter standard (“1a”) requires us to determine whether Donaghy believes all of the falsehoods he has repeatedly stated and whether he intends to deceive.  When researching the scandal, I – like the federal authorities who investigated his claims – saw little value in taking the time to assess his state of mind and merely cared if his assertions were valid and supported by the evidence.  Some may recall what the lead prosecutor told the court about Donaghy’s myriad claims (that consumed the resources of the FBI at who knows what taxpayer expense, incidentally):
“…we’ve never taken the position that Mr. Donaghy has lied to us.  But, there is a difference between telling the truth and believing you’re telling the truth and finding out later that a number of allegations don’t hold any water” (emphasis added).
Of course, there are still many Donaghy whoppers made after his release from prison (when he began straying even further from the facts, most likely to sell books and/or excuse his prior behavior) that Donaghy certainly knows are not true, led perhaps by his repeated statements that his longtime “true friend” Tommy Martino was/is a member of organized crime (see below and elsewhere).  As to whether Donaghy believes the numerous other factually-untrue statements uttered and/or penned by him, here is my brief analysis of the matter.

As I explained to an online publication recently about not trying to interview Donaghy for Gaming the Game, “Importantly, by the time Donaghy was released from prison in late 2009 and ostensibly available for an interview, I was deep into the project and knew there were significant flaws in what he had told federal authorities.  Of course, I had also interviewed those persons who investigated and prosecuted him, including one federal official who, since the earliest days of dealing with Donaghy, considered the former NBA referee to be ‘deranged’ and someone who ‘believes the world is against him.’  Another federal official called Donaghy ‘a fucking loose cannon.’”  These are in addition to other interview subjects who have known Donaghy over the years who expressed similar sentiments.  As such, I suppose it is conceivable that Tim Donaghy actually believes some of the things he says which are nevertheless downright silly when measured against the evidence.  Regardless of his mindset and motivations, Tim Donaghy is a dubious source to be sure.  Here is some more related commentary for interested parties…

Gaming the Game readers will note that for the most part I do not get into the more personal aspects of the NBA betting scandal co-conspirators’ lives.  What little material that appears in the book in this regard is offered only to explain the sociology of the conspiracy and to understand how these personal matters impacted the decision-making of various parties during the conspiracy and throughout the criminal justice process.  Regarding the former concern, for instance, their backgrounds and relationships mattered in the context of addressing whether this was a mob-orchestrated extortion scheme, as Donaghy claims, or rather if it was simply a matter of longtime and mutual pals getting together to make easy money, as Martino and Battista insist.  With respect to the latter concern, personal issues impacted all sorts of things:
(a)    during the conspiracy (e.g., What accounted for Battista living temporarily in Martino’s home, which ultimately greased the wheels for the conspiracy with Donaghy?  Was Donaghy, as he claims, a mob extortion victim in fear of his life from “Gambino crime family members” Tommy Martino and Jimmy Battista or instead, as fellow cooperating witness Martino expressed to the FBI, was Donaghy partying it up – complete with drug use and prostitutes obtained from an online service - with his longtime buddy Tommy when they met for payments during the scandal - and pleading with Martino to keep the scheme going when Donaghy was informed by Martino that it was being shut down?); and
(b)    during the criminal justice proceedings (e.g., Why didn’t federal authorities buy Donaghy’s story about not fixing games and instead fight with him, insisting he admit he may have at the least subconsciously altered games before agreeing to sign off on a plea deal with him?  What off-the-court actions almost cost Donaghy his job as an NBA referee in 2005, and how might these and other related behavioral issues have impacted a jury trial with him as the lead witness - and with his testimony as the key evidence - in the scandal cases?)

Casual NBA betting scandal followers, especially those located outside the Philadelphia area, may be unaware of Tim Donaghy’s troubling reputation among those who knew him throughout his life.  For example, in July 2008 as Donaghy awaited sentencing (i.e., at a time when most criminal defendants can expect others who know them to say things like, “I can’t believe what he admitted to/has been convicted of doing; that seems so unlike him” or “He’s such a great person” or “I feel so bad for him” and the like), Donaghy’s hometown newspaper wrote:
“every teammate, classmate, or associate contacted…by the [Delco] Daily Times either chose not to comment on Donaghy or didn’t return phone calls…While there are those empathetic to Donaghy and his gambling-related plight, many others consider his a karmic downfall.”1 
National writers have heard similar assessments of Donaghy, including Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, who wrote:
“several sources described him as fairly unpopular with his peers, past and present…From his Philly basketball roots to his peers in the NBA, Donaghy isn’t described with much affection.”
Now that my findings have been published (in the book and elsewhere; see, e.g., my blogs here and here), Donaghy has engaged in behavior patterns that have characterized much of his adult life.  For example, when a prominent and well-regarded sports journalist recently pointed his readers and viewers to my work and offered his praise for my carefully-documented research, Tim Donaghy publicly smeared the commentator as “a nasty drunk” who “had a major problem with the booze” and who was “fired” from a newspaper career (as is standard Donaghy fare by now, all of these assertions are of course without a hint of supporting evidence).  

Similarly, when two of Philadelphia’s most highly-regarded sports journalists appeared with me on a popular area television sports program to discuss Gaming the Game, Donaghy was true to form with his response.  Stan Hochman is a legendary, award-winning sportswriter who has, among other things, written for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1959, and who has been inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.  Hochman reviewed Gaming the Game for the Daily News, in part stating that the book is not a sympathetic portrait of Jimmy Battista, that it is “intriguing,” and that it “offers a fascinating look into the Donaghy scandal.”2  Dick Jerardi is also an award-winning sportswriter for the Daily News, who has been described as “one of the leading basketball reporters in the country” (in fact, he formerly served as president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).  Interestingly, Jerardi penned a lengthy (and I think most would say “positive”) piece on Donaghy’s father, Gerry, an admired and respected former NCAA referee, during the newspaper's comprehensive NBA betting scandal coverage.  Like Hochman, Jerardi was very familiar with my two-plus years of research, and thus he appeared on the program to discuss the book.  Despite the seriousness with which the material was treated by each panelist, Donaghy – as is his nature – publicly said, without ever seeing or hearing the program – and still without having read the book and without reviewing its considerable documentation, “They are all full of shit.”

I am also aware of Donaghy phoning others with whom he disagrees and harassing them, especially if they have publicly discussed (or have otherwise been involved with) my research.

Tim Donaghy’s recent statements and actions perfectly confirm what informed persons described to me during the project, and they validate my decision not to attempt interviewing him.  He is a source lacking credibility…and a lot more.

1. Anthony J. SanFilippo, “Donaghy’s downfall leaves many scars,” Delco Times, July 6, 2008 (not available online).
2. Other published reviews have similarly stated that Gaming the Game is not particularly kind to former pro gambler Jimmy Battista, and have praised the book for its “exhaustive"/"impeccable" research.  For reviews of Gaming the Game, please see here.