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This is the first in a two-part series where we look at the use of league security departments, what they are and how they work. We also discuss the role that NFL and MLB security might have as more states seek to offer legalized sports betting.
Even before the demise of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) at the Supreme Court, sports leagues had begun to attempt to finagle integrity fees. They assert that legal sports betting would result in a significant increase in costs, as leagues would face a greater number of threats in a legal marketplace.
Unfortunately for the leagues, their representatives to date have been unable to put forward a coherent accounting of what new costs they would incur. This likely has been an important factor in many states which have passed bills and excluded stipulations that the leagues be paid a fee.
Each of the four major professional sports leagues employs a staff of security personnel that conduct investigations on behalf of the league and its member teams. Cathy Lanier took over as the NFL’s chief security officer in 2016 after working as police chief in Washington, D.C. Lanier’s job involves a variety of tasks from stadium security issues, to terrorism threats and handling investigations into threats to the integrity of NFL games.
The NFL Security Department employs a variety of staff; a current job posting for an assistant-level investigator lists the following “Essential Functions” as part of the job:
The hiring of Lanier came after the high-profile failure of the NFL’s security department’s former head, Jeffrey Miller, and his handling of the domestic violence case involving Ray Rice’s assault.
Miller was a former Pennsylvania police commissioner before being named to the NFL’s top security post in 2011. The AP reported that Miller had been sent video of the Rice incident, but denied that he had watched the video until it was made public.
Rice was initially punished before the video came to light, and it was only after the video was aired by TMZ that the NFL rewrote its disciplinary policies.
The key issue that arose came about because the source of the video who provided it to the NFL had been a law enforcement source who sought to provide the NFL with information prior to deciding Rice’s punishment. The reported failure to view the video was but one questionable incident in the extensive history of the NFL Security Department.
As is chronicled in Dan Moldea’s 1989 book “Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football,” NFL security has long had an overlapping interest with law enforcement. Following the death of NFL security director Jim Hamilton in 1966, the NFL brought in William Hundley, who a decade earlier had made his name in the Department of Justice for prosecuting communists.
Hundley more recently had headed up the Justice Department’s organized crime section, which was particularly attractive to the powers that be at the NFL. The league had recently begun to grow concerned over relationships between several players and prominent bookmakers.
Hundley was brought in to use his Justice Department acquaintances for the benefit of the NFL. One task that Hundley undertook was to develop a relationship with Gil “The Brain” Beckley, a legendary handicapper. According to Moldea:
Beckley said to Hundley: “you and me are on the same team.”
Hundley responded: “What the hell are you talking about? I’m not on your team!”
Beckley fired back: “Yes, you are—because you want what I want: honest National Football League games.”
Beckley was right, and his friendship to the NFL would prove so valuable that Hundley would write to the Federal Probation Office on Beckley’s behalf — using NFL letterhead — following Beckley’s conviction on various charges, including violation of the Wire Act.
Hundley recounted the helpfulness of Beckley to the league and stated to the Miami probation office:
During the season, he was most helpful in apprising us of any unusual fluctuations in the betting odds and assisting us in insuring the integrity of professional football from the influence of undesirable elements.
Since this information was offered and received on a confidential basis, I would appreciate it if you would hold it to yours and the sentencing Judges attention. If it will serve any useful purpose, I would be pleased to elaborate more fully on services that Beckley performed. I might add, that at no time did Mr. Beckley ask for or receive any assistance from myself or anyone else in the National Football League in connection with his present difficulties with the government.
Beckley would disappear in 1970, but questions over the NFL’s relationship with law enforcement remain.
While the Rice scandal illustrated serious failures in the league’s ability to handle and process information, it is not unreasonable to ask questions as to whether the NFL might have let other information fall through the cracks.
Certainly, in a perfect world, law enforcement would have all the resources necessary to conduct investigations and keep the NFL safe from match-fixers, and the rest of us safe from society’s ills. But the bottom line is that doing so is simply too expensive.
The NFL’s security staff plays an important role for the league, many members of the Department are ex-law enforcement, including some former members of the intelligence community.
What the department lacks is any of the authority that belongs to law enforcement. The authority of the NFL Security Department begins and ends with NFL personnel. Beyond those receiving a paycheck from the league or its subsidiary teams, there is no obligation for any person to cooperate with league security.
The prospect of a fee being delegated to a sports league to privately investigate a potential criminal offense should be shocking to the conscience. While the NFL security team is vital in capacities such as event security, they do not possess any of the powers that one would find associated with a law enforcement badge.
This makes the request for an integrity fee to supplement a staff that is impotent beyond notifying law enforcement against external threats all the more puzzling.