Crime meets sports: ‘Whistleblower’ investigates the NBA’s referee betting scandal that led to mafia ties

Sports December 6, 2021
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In 2007, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was arrested for betting on games he was officiating. The huge scandal rocked headlines before quickly fading out of the limelight. Sports journalist Tim Livingston has spent years investigating this scandal, intrigued by how quickly the NBA seemed to cover it up. Well, according to Donaghy, he was actually just the scapegoat; the “Whistleblower” in this betting scandal went far beyond just one rogue referee.

This Tenderfoot TV and Cadence13 production was one of the biggest podcasts of 2020. Its 11 episodes need to be listened to in order as Livingston embarks on his 8-year journey to find out where Donaghy and the NBA were moving the money. With an average episode length of 40-minutes, you may be able to finish it in a day.

While “Whistleblower” topped the charts with it’s mashing of true crime, sports, and a mystery that goes beyond the billion dollar basketball industry, what really had people hooked was Donaghy himself. Donaghy has definitely not kept as quiet as the NBA would like, writing his memoir which was originally going to be titled Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA, but was renamed to Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked the NBA. So, you can see what Donaghy thinks about the whole scandal.

Not just that, but the “Whistleblower” investigation comes up with new information from one of Donaghy’s co-conspirators, Tommy Martino. While the two maintain that Donaghy was far from the only referee betting on games and skewing them in their favor, they often seem to not realize that their microphones are on, revealing more information than they probably intended.

That’s when Livingston’s investigation brings him face to face with retired FBI agent Phil Scala, the supervisor of the FBI probe into Tim Donaghy and the head of the investigative unit focused on the Gambino crime family. Many suspect that Donaghy was working for the mafia family, ensuring games’ point differentials would make them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Whistleblower’s” polysemous title is realized quite quickly. Donaghy is accusing the NBA and its referees of massive fraud, intertwined with underground crime syndicates and immense amounts of money. He has said that this is still happening, referees ensuring certain teams made it to the finals and even pushing for seven games in the Finals.

Also, if you’re an NBA fan, Michael Lewis fan, or a Podsauce fan, you may notice that the year Donaghy was fired, 2007, was also the year that the New York Times reported on referees racial bias in the NBA. In the first episode of “Against the Rules with Michael Lewis,” he talks about the NBA’s response to this accusation and how it was actually managed to be fixed. Is this just an odd coincidence that the NBA was exposed twice that year? Or are we way off in our head-scratching?

While spectators love to accuse referees of unfairness, Donaghy and “Whistleblower” believe there is so much more than we think to organized sports. Hear what Livingston found out in his investigation in “Whistleblower.”

Listen to ‘Whistleblower’

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