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Officials take on scandal

Annual summit ends with vows to restore their credibility amid 'dark cloud of Donaghy.'

August 01, 2007|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

DENVER -- Sports officials from across the nation ended a three-day summit Tuesday determined to rebuild their credibility, despite the industry being shadowed by what one official described as "the dark cloud of Donaghy."

The sports community gathered less than two weeks after reports that veteran NBA official Tim Donaghy gambled and provided inside information on league games he worked. "We should feel ashamed by what happened, but not ashamed of our effort," National Assn. of Sports Officials President Barry Mano told attendees, although he noted, "One breath of scandal freezes much honest sweat."

In response to the Donaghy case, the NFL vice president who supervises his league's 120 officials said he is pushing for a round-table discussion of officiating and security leaders involving all major professional and college sports leagues.

Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating, said he delivered a letter last week to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggesting such a conference should take place "ASAP."

"We need to look at all of our strengths and set standards establishing the best possible practices," Pereira said after speaking at the 25th NASO summit. "It behooves us to show we're doing all we can."

NHL officiating director Stephen Walkom agreed. The Donaghy "situation is going to make all the leagues review what they do," he said. "Due process will play out, and we must learn from it."

In his keynote address to some 500 professional, college and high school officials, Mano called the Donaghy scandal "a tragedy," and said, "we're sitting here with a little bit of an integrity problem." Donaghy, 40, was a NASO member until resigning from the NBA in early July.

Donaghy is being investigated by the FBI and law enforcement sources in New York say federal criminal charges could be filed against him as soon as this week.

NASO will consider setting up a "compliance template" that will recommend officials be subjected to in-depth background checks, and the group may establish an anonymous hotline where peers who witness questionable behavior in and out of the workplace can file a report.

Mark Uyl, assistant director of the Michigan High School Athletic Assn. who supervises 12,000 officials, said the reports about Donaghy's gambling undermines the credibility of all referees.

"A certain segment of the population think officials cheat or care who wins, and this gives those critics fuel," Uyl said. "I can already hear the calls: 'Do you have money on this game?' It's unfortunate, because, especially at our level, the only thing an official has is his integrity. We need strong action -- even if it's to hire private investigators to follow guys at the pro level -- to regain the public's trust."

At the summit, former NBA officiating director Ed T. Rush, and current NBA officials Jim Clark and Violet Palmer adhered to David Stern's league-wide gag order and declined to discuss the Donaghy situation directly.

Clark told a large group attending a Rush-led leadership seminar that the key to withstanding "the challenge that faces us today" is understanding "you can't succeed if you don't love what you're doing and if you're not a person of integrity.

"There's so much scrutiny on us, so many crunch-time plays. I used to daydream about that: I want this play. We're paid to make decisions, and there's times you have to make those decisions despite less than 100% visual feedback. Be in shape, be a good partner, do your best, and you'll create an environment of honesty."

In her segment, Palmer outlined the league supervision that the 60 NBA officials, including Donaghy, worked under last season. She said the NBA employs supervisors who oversee about 15 officials each, with separate game observers positioned at every NBA game site to grade "every single call and no-call."

"We're fighting to see the whole observer's report . . . do I think we ever will? Probably not," Palmer said in her 45-minute session. "I have no contact with the observer in the stands, but I can discuss and argue the merits [of their reports] with my supervisor."

She called the observer's role "a catch-22."

"Observers have nothing to do with our training. Some have never been an NBA referee, and that's been our biggest gripe," Palmer said. "I can understand why the NBA office doesn't want me to talk to [the observers]. It may not be a very nice conversation."


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