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Tom Matlack talks to disgraced
NBA referee Tim Donaghy about
betting on games he refereed,
gambling in America, and the road
to recovery and redemption.
My column (and this magazine, for that matter)
isn’t about Hollywood images of manhood. I will
certainly write about and interview plenty of guys
who are heroic by anyone's defnition÷from
marines to athletes to guys working in the trenches
of poverty and abuse. But to me, manhood and
goodness are not about getting it right from the
get-go. They are about making mistakes÷big
mistakes÷and then fguring out what the hell
you’re going to do about it.
As my grandmother told me when I called her
shortly after being tossed out of the house fourteen
years ago for being a drunk and a liar, “Tom, it’s
not how you fall in life that counts; it’s how you
pick yourself up.”
So when I say everyone has a story, I mean
everyone. I am particularly interested in guys
who made huge mistakes in their lives. Are they
now following my grandmother’s advice? To me,
manhood is about redemption. It’s about admitting
you screwed up. I’m always willing to listen to guys
who others might criticize me for talking to, even
just to learn what not to do.
When I spoke to convicted murderers at Sing
Sing, I asked them what moment made them a
man. I was moved to tears by their courage in
sharing their stories with me. Given the mistakes
I’ve made in my life, I’m in no position to judge
others. But I am in a position to be inspired. That’s
the point of what Ì'm doing÷to be inspired and to
inspire you as a reader. So, fasten your seatbelts.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
“So, fasten your seatbelts. It’s
going to be a bumpy ride.”
With my Boston Celtics in the NBA fnals, Ì wanted
to explore a manhood problem that no one seems
to want to talk about. We’ll get to sex, drugs, and
Wall Street in future columns. But why doesn’t
anyone want to talk about gambling? We won’t
legalize the drugs that are destroying our inner
cities and causing Mexico to be burned to the
ground, yet when it comes to casinos and lotteries,
the government just keeps expanding in hopes of
covering budget shortfalls. We’re all too willing to
ignore the fact that we’re generating tax income
by encouraging addictive behavior, largely among
those least economically able to “play.”
Along with Pete Rose, former NBA referee Tim
Donaghy is among the most famous compulsive
gamblers caught participating in professional
sports. Many of my friends urged me not to give
him the time of day, but I wanted to talk to Tim
about his life, gambling, the NBA fnals, and how
NBA referees can unfairly impact the outcome of
Donaghy worked as an NBA referee from 1994 to
2007. During that time, he offciated 772 regular
season games and 20 playoff games. He resigned
LeBron James, or a Dwyane Wade, or a Dwight
Howard, the whistle’s blown right away. It’s just
way, way too subjective, and they need to narrow
that down a lot more to get the fans' confdence
MATLACK: Who do you think the NBA wants to
win the fnal?
DONAGHY: You know, I don’t really believe
that they have a stake in who they want to win the
fnal, but Ì think that their goal is certainly to have it
go up into that sixth and hopefully seventh game,
to where globally there’s a tremendous amount at
MATLACK:: So tell me a little bit about your
story, and how you got in trouble.
DONAGHY: Well, certainly I got in trouble
because I suffer from a gambling addiction, and
I crossed the line I should have
never been near.
I was betting on the NBA, and eventually on NBA
teams that I refereed. And the reason that it’s
all exposed is that a friend of mine was passing
the information along to people associated with
organized crime, and when I decided I wanted to
stop betting, the people who were getting these
picks, and making millions of dollars off the picks,
certainly didn’t want to stop, and they picked me up
in Philadelphia and basically threatened to expose
me to the NBA or have somebody visit my wife
and kids in Florida. So I participated, giving them
the picks, and this whole thing was heard over
Gambino wiretap, and the operation was basically
exposed. I became a cooperating witness for
the government against people associated with
organized crime, and also the culture that existed
within the NBA.
MATLACK: So, at that point, once they were
threatening you, you started actually making calls
based on making sure that the bets that they were
making were going to win?
DONAGHY: No, it was never making calls in the
game. In fact, there were times when they made
reference to why I made certain calls against the
teams I told them to bet. The bottom line is, I was
from the league on July 9, 2007, amidst reports of
an investigation by the FBI into allegations that he
bet on games that he offciated during his last two
seasons. On August 15, 2007, Donaghy pled guilty
to two federal charges related to the investigation
and was sentenced to ffteen months in federal
prison. He published a memoir, Personal Foul, in
which he claims that NBA referees often let their
biases get in the way of doing their jobs.
MATLACK: I’m a big Celtics fan, so I’m somewhat
biased. But Ì've sat on the foor at the Fleet, up
close and personal, watching the refereeing, and
it just seems like it’s a real problem in the game
DONAGHY: It’s a huge problem, because with
the blueprint of the book and exposing what goes
on in these fnal series, and putting it out in the
open, it’s really putting the NBA and the referees
in the spotlight. And the bottom line is that there
are a lot of knowledgeable fans out there who are
being turned off by what’s going on. Not only have
I received a lot of letters from fans, but also owners
and players, saying that they’re hoping that this
thing truly becomes an athletic competition where
everybody’s treated the same.
MATLACK: Do you think there’s any role for
video? In other sports, there’s the ability to go
back and actually look at a play. I know it’s hard to
do in basketball, because it’s moving so quickly,
but I always thought if you had somebody in a
booth somewhere, he could actually be making
the closer calls based on video rather than being
on the court, having to try and look through huge
bodies. Does that make any sense to you, or no?
DONAGHY: It absolutely makes sense,
because there’s an accountability factor with that.
Ìt would certainly be embarrassing for an offcial to
miss a call and have it overturned.
MATLACK: Which rule do you think is broken
the most fagrantly right now? Ìf they want to move
a game, what do they use?
DONAGHY: The traveling violation is one. It’s
being ignored or not based on the player. Another
is freedom of movement, where certain people are
allowed to grab and hold, and dislodge people.
But then again, if you do something like that to a
winning 70-80% of the time. At no time did I need
to go out and fx a game or make calls on a game
to make sure some of these bets won.
MATLACK: So you were winning this based on
your knowledge of the teams?
DONAGHY: My knowledge of the teams, my
knowledge of relationships that existed between
the referees and players, referees and coaches,
and referees and owners, whether it was a
positive relationship or a negative relationship.
And I used that information to create a line on the
game myself, and then I compared the line in the
newspaper, and if there was a difference of four or
fve points, Ì would tell them to bet the game.
MATLACK: And so where are you now in terms
of gambling? Have you completely given it up?
DONAGHY: I have given it up completely. I
still go to treatment to stay away from the triggers
that got me excited, pushed me in the direction to
want to gamble. And not only that, I’m personally
working for a gambling treatment center out of
New Jersey called First Step. So it’s something
else that helps me with my therapy, and sharing
my story with people who suffer from gambling
MATLACK: It seems like gambling has become
such a huge business in this country. What do you
think about that? We have a big controversy here
in Massachusetts. The state senate and house
are fghting over how many new gambling parlors
to construct. There was going to be a big biotech
complex just south of the city, and wouldn’t you
know, it’s no longer going to be a biotech complex,
it’s going to be a huge casino.
MATLACK: Because the state decided they
could make more money on a casino than they
could on the biotech complex.
DONAGHY: Yeah, I mean it’s absolutely
exploding. My thought is, it really started to
explode when ESPN got a hold of this Texas Hold
’Em, and these college campuses started having
tournaments, and all these people started thinking
that they were going to be the next guy to win $15
million in the World Series of Poker. People think
that they’re going to make an enormous amount
of money out of playing cards for a living. It’s just
something that has gotten way out of hand, and
I’m hoping that by people understanding my story,
and sharing my story, that they’ll realize that it’s a
dead end, and that not only is gambling not good
for you, it affects the other people who are special
in your life, and that’s your family.
MATLACK: So what happened to you in that
regard? What did you lose by gambling?
DONAGHY: I lost my job, I lost my family, I lost
my freedom, and I don’t think there are three more
important things than that. You talk about being
divorced with four children, a job where you’re
making over $300,000 a year, and a situation
where you’re put in jail with people accused of
attempted murder÷or double homicide. So all
those things were certainly very, very tough to get
MATLACK: And what’s your relationship with
your kids like now?
DONAGHY: I’ve got a positive relationship with
my kids. I talk to them every day. I’m in the process
of working out a custody agreement so that I get
to spend some more quality time with them. And
it’s something that, over time, is just going to be
worked out, and we’re going to move forward in a
very positive way. And not only do I think that I’ve
learned a great deal from this, I think a lot of other
people have, also.
MATLACK: Yeah. Just so you know, my
background is that I was CFO of a very big public
company at 29. I had two little kids, but I got
thrown out of the house for being a drunk and a
cheat. That was 14 years ago. Then I went off and
started a venture capital frm, and eventually got
remarried and all that good stuff. But part of why
I’m doing this magazine is because I believe that
men have lost their way for a variety of reasons.
DONAGHY: Yeah, I can tell you that, I’ve hung
out with a bunch of different guys, whether it was
referees, whether it was my buddies growing up,
or whether it’s my new buddy here in Florida, and
we all do the same fucking thing.
MATLACK: Well, the reassuring thing is that
once you get on the other side a little bit, and you
start actually talking to other guys, and trying to
help other guys, you realize there’s only a very
small handful of ways of fucking up, and everyone
does exactly the same thing. It’s not like you’re
alone, for Christ’s sake. It doesn’t make it any less
painful, but at least you’re not alone.
So, on another note, we have these questions
we ask everybody, from athletes to scientists to
writers. So let me just walk through them with you.
And generally, the best answer is whatever comes
to your mind frst. Ìf you don't want to answer a
question, just tell me you don’t want to answer it.
MATLACK: So the frst one is, who taught you
about manhood in your life?
DONAGHY: My father. My father told me that
there’s right ways to handle things and wrong
ways to handle things, and honestly, he gave me
the knowledge to do everything the right way. For
whatever reason, I chose to make some poor
choices and mistakes in my life, and I paid greatly
MATLACK: How has romantic love shaped you
as a man?
DONAGHY: Not sure. I don’t know if I have an
answer for that one.
MATLACK: (laughter) That's fne. What two
words describe your dad?
DONAGHY: Strong and ethical.
MATLACK: How are you most unlike him?
DONAGHY: I’m most unlike him because I
made some poor decisions that he would never
MATLACK:From which mistake have you
learned the most?
DONAGHY: Which one? There are a couple of
them. I think obviously I should have been able to
face up to the fact that I had a problem before it
got to where it got to, and put me in a position to
cost me and my family a lot.
MATLACK: What word would women in your
life use to describe you, and do you believe it’s
DONAGHY: At this point, or in the past?
MATLACK: At this point. You can answer it
however you want, but generally it's the÷
DONAGHY: Remorseful. I’m truly sorry for what
MATLACK: Who’s the best dad you know, and
how does he earn that distinction?
DONAGHY: Certainly that would be my dad,
because he has stood by me in this situation
where it would have been easily understood if he
chose not to.
MATLACK: Have you been more successful in
your public or your private life?
DONAGHY: I would say more successful in my
private life, because my daughters are a part of
that, and I’m very proud of them.
MATLACK:: When was the last time you
DONAGHY: Probably the day I got out of jail.
MATLACK: That’s a good time to cry. What
advice would you give teenage boys trying to
fgure out what it means to be a good man?
DONAGHY: I would tell them to realize that
the choices that they’re going to make in life, not
only are those choices going to affect themselves,
but they’re going to affect their family, who are the
people that they really care for and love the most.
So to be a man is to make the right choices, and
support and care for the people who mean the
most to you.
MATLACK: And the last one is, what’s your
most cherished guy ritual?
DONAGHY: I guess working out. I just enjoy
working out, and I do it every day, and it’s something
that helps me to get through the day, and begin it
in a healthy way, and that’s what I usually start out
MATLACK: Do you lift weights? What do you
DONAGHY: Yeah, I lift weights, and try and do
something that is going to get me started, and I
feel good about myself.
MATLACK: That’s all the questions. So where’s
your book available?
DONAGHY: Right now it’s just available
on Amazon. A lot of them are sold out in the
bookstores, and they’re in the process of getting
the paperback edition in there. But the best way to
get it is on Amazon.
MATLACK: Okay. Well, that’s all I have, Tim. It’s
been a pleasure talking to you. I personally am a
big believer in the idea of redemption. I mean, my
whole life has been about trying to make up for
the mistakes I made. And so I really admire your
courage and what you’re doing.
DONAGHY: Yeah, I got a long way to go, but I’m
staying down here, and Ì'm going to keep fghting
every day, so we’ll see what happens.
MATLACK: All right, man, keep going.
DONAGHY: Thanks, pal.and become a decent
man, father, and husband. The men whom I have
met during the Project have each inspired me to
grow in a different way. They are my heroes. What
we all need as men isn’t more silent suffering; it’s
the willingness to tell and listen to the truth of our
Each week in this space, I’ll explore a topic that
came up as I traveled the country talking about
manhood: stay-at-home dads, post-traumatic
stress among our veterans, pornography, fatherless
boys, imprisoned men, emotional infdelity, gay
fathers, sports, male violence, pedophilia, faith in
the most general sense, 21st century boys, and
what it means to be a good son, to name just a
Mine will be a weekly post that is just one part of the
newly launched online magazine that collectively
we hope will become the destination for men,
boys, and the women who love them, to talk about
what it means to be male in the 21st century.
My column will be a conversation starter, not the
fnal word. As Ì have often said, Ì am not good
enough to tell you how to be good. So I hope that
you will join the conversation by telling me how I
got it right or wrong each week.
In addition, each week I will pose a “Man Mail”
question that I hope to explore in a future column.
Please don’t use the comment section to respond
to the question (that’s reserved for responses to the
current column itself) but email me at manmail@
goodmenbook.org. The more brutally honest you
can be, the better.
Finally, a word on
“Good is Good”
itself. When I
moved away from
doing deals and
my time trying
to write, I found
myself doing a lot of
a t h l e t e s ÷
who I just thought
were cool and
wanted to hang out
with. My most recent piece is about a remarkable
rowing coach, Charley Butt, who has led his
lightweight men to seven national titles while also
coaching perhaps the best female single sculler in
American history to a silver medal at the Olympics.
When I asked Charley how he shifted gears from
college-aged men to world-class women, often in
the same day of coaching, he looked me straight in
the eyes and made clear that there was absolutely
no adjustment necessary. “Good is good,” he
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