The NFL and the mob who calls the plays | Washington Post

By S andy SmithOctober 29, 1989INTERFERENCE How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football By Dan E. Moldea Morrow. 512 pp. $19.95 DURING THE PAST five decades, professional football has been plagued by tumultuous scandals involving organized crime, gambling, alleged game-fixing and point-shaving. The very soul of the game — its integrity — has been jeopardized by reports linking players and some team owners with betting and mob-controlled bookies. Year after year, investigations of the football leagues has drawn the intense attention of newspapers, magazines and television networks. In Interference, Dan Moldea has assembled a catalogue of all the nasty allegations. His research was extensive. He sifted through the clippings and the FBI reports. Delving into the old football gambling cases, he talked to everyone — mobsters, bookies, players, owners, cops, the feds and NFL security men. His findings are presented in mind-numbing detail.

Yet Moldea fails in the end to nail down what he promises in the subtitle of his book: “How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football.” In the prologue, Moldea writes that a 1946 game-fixing conspiracy and a 1971 point-shaving scheme were minor iniquities by comparison with what he has discovered. “This book,” he writes, “will provide evidence {emphasis added} that there have been many other attempts to compromise the integrity of the game — with far greater success.” Moldea dug deep, but sad to say, he came up short. Actual evidence is scant in his book. He does, however, manage to package the fog of suspicions, rumors, allegations and accusations that have enveloped pro football over the years. Perhaps anticipating criticism of his gossamer evidence, Moldea writes: “The NFL is sure to attempt to discredit this book . . . in any way it can — just as it did with an article I wrote about this subject after the 1987 regular season. . . . the league’s now-familiar tactic will be to remain aloof from the charges, deny them from afar, and then send its front line of defense, the loyal sportswriters, to attack the messenger. I am a crime reporter, not a sportswriter.” Fair enough. Moldea’s work is to be judged, then, by the strict standards of investigative journalism, rather than by the relaxed tenets of sports coverage. The most serious problem with Interference is the ridiculous information Moldea cites to support the charge of organized crime influence in pro football. He appears to have been bamboozled by his prime source of information, a Detroit hustler named Don Dawson. In the author’s defense, it must be said that if he has been deceived by Dawson, he is not alone; a lot of smart people have been fooled by Dawson. For years in Detroit, Dawson maintained an affluent life-style by fleecing wealthy businessmen at crooked crap games in the locker rooms of posh country clubs. According to Moldea, Dawson’s admissions establish that other successful game fixing followed the attempted bribery of two New York Giants in the 1946 NFL championship game. “Dawson confessed to me that during the 1950s and 1960s he had been personally invoved in the fixing of no fewer than 32 NFL games,” writes Moldea. “Don Dawson’s shocking admission is a first. No one has ever stepped forward and claimed to have actually been involved in fixed games.” Although Dawson says that more than 20 years ago many players had a hand in the 32 fixed games, he names only one — quarterback Bobby Layne, who died in 1986 before Dawson began describing himself as the fix-master of the NFL. Dawson claimed Layne “fixed games or shaved points” in seven games while playing for the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who were the players involved in the other 25 fixed games? Dawson refused to give Moldea their names “because they are still alive.” That prevented Moldea from checking out Dawson’s tale with any of the players he might have implicated. Thus Moldea is totally dependent on the shaky credibility of Dawson, a windy gambler convicted in a betting case that had nothing to do with the NFL. The FBI was all over Dawson at the time. While the investigation showed he knew Layne and there was little doubt that Layne had done some betting through Dawson, there was no evidence of any fixed games. ANOTHER CHARGE in Interference is astonishing. Moldea writes that “evidence . . . about the organized crime syndicate’s influence on professional football” was kept secret in the celebrated Stardust Casino skimming case. But in that federal investigation, the NFL was never connected in any way with the evidence that sent six men to prison for stealing millions from Nevada gambling casinos. The credibility of Interference is further eroded by Moldea’s penchant for taking cheap shots at the owners of football teams. Some of them, of course, were far from innocent in the football scandals. Nonetheless, whatever the nature of his background, his business or his relationships, an owner (like everyone else) is entitled to a fair shake in the media. John Mecom Jr., owner of the New Orleans Saints from 1966 to 1985, certainly doesn’t get that from Moldea. What Moldea does to Mecom amounts to journalistic mugging. Information attributed to an unidentified “associate” of a Mafia chief is inserted by Moldea in his account of Mecom’s purchase of the New Orleans Saints. “An associate of {New Orleans crime figure Carlos} Marcello alleges that whether or not Mecom knew it, he had been selected by Marcello to buy the Saints,” Moldea writes. He quotes the unnamed Marcello associate as saying that “Carlos got a hold of Mecom’s {people} to see if he was interested in the team and he was.” Unable to reach either Mecom or Marcello, then imprisoned in Texas, Moldea attempted to create the semblance of fairness with a disclaimer: “Mecom has vehemently insisted that he had never knowingly done business with Marcello or his associates.” Nor did Moldea leave it at that. In his third back-of-the book note on the chapter describing Mecom’s purchase of the Saints, Moldea has more to say about the man who was supposed to have “selected” Mecom to own the Saints. In his footnote, Moldea writes, “There is considerable evidence that Carlos Marcello along with Santo Trafficante and Jimmy Hoffa, arranged and executed the 1963 murder of President John F. Kennedy. See my book, The Hoffa Wars . . ..” Moldea does not offer an explanation for how the speculation in his earlier book was transformed in the last 11 years into the “considerable evidence” cited in Interference. Sandy Smith covered crime for 50 years for Chicago newspapers and Time Inc. magazines.