I think I speak for all sports fans when I say I love the “30 for 30” documentary series from ESPN. While I haven’t seen all of them, most do a great job of grabbing your attention and bringing you through an intriguing story about sports. And when it comes to gambling about athletics, can you really find anything more fascinating for a documentary? I mean as a White Sox fan I always take pride in the fact that we had a team so good that everyone knew they must have thrown the World Series. How often can you say that?
“Playing for the Mob” tells the story of a point fixing scandal that went down at Boston College in the late 1970s. The real man behind “Goodfellas” (a fantastic movie by the way) Henry Hill, along with other mobsters, attempts to win some easy money betting on the spread. They meet up with three of the Eagles with one, Rick Kuhn, being the one most interested in winning some money.
Throughout the season we see plenty of the mobsters winning money with Boston College staying under the spread but nothing that really makes you think there is a fix. In fact there were plenty of times where the mob losses. When it’s all said and done, nothing actually comes out of the season and all the players go their separate ways.
Unfortunately Henry Hill becomes a rat and starts coming clean about many of the things the mob did. The whole reason he is given immunity is to help bring down Jimmy Burke who was the mastermind behind the infamous Lufthansa heist. It is through this that all of the players “involved” are investigated and some even go to jail. I must say one of the best aspects of the film is how the movie “Goodfellas” ties in with it. While the scandal wasn’t really mentioned in the fictional film, it’s still fun to see the connections with the classic movie.
Yet while “Playing for the Mob” keeps you interested throughout, the main flaw is that there really wasn’t a fix. I mean the mobsters bet on these games but there was no proof that any of the players actually threw a game. Even Jim Sweeney (who was on our show this week) says he took the money but never did anything to mess with the integrity of the game. Yeah Rick Kuhn set it up and paid the hefty price but nobody truly found anything where a player was clearly fixing the game.
But with all that said the story is still fascinating and it does throw into the biggest question about gambling in sports: do you trust anyone? There may be no evidence but sometimes you look back at certain mistakes and wonder if they were done purposefully. And as we’ve seen gambling as had a major impact on sports (just ask anyone who watches Italian soccer). So through that critical query, “Playing for the Mob” excellently illustrates all of the pieces to the puzzle. The next question is if they truly fit together.