Penalty for betting is ridiculously softI grew up a fan of Yang Kyung-min, the Korean Basketball League player for the Dongbu Promy. In the early ’90s, when it was cool for kids to cheer for the basketball squads of Yonsei University and Korea University, I found myself cheering for the underdogs, Yang’s Chung Ang University. A sharp shooter and a tenacious, underrated defender, Yang stood out on an otherwise mediocre team.
But on Thursday, the league suspended Yang for 36 games and imposed a 3 million won ($3,134) fine for betting on his team’s playoff game two seasons ago. Earlier that day, news reports revealed that a regional court had fined Yang 1 million won in June, when he was convicted of the offense.
My initial reaction was shock ― that an athlete, let alone the one I had cheered for, would dare bet on his own sport. Then came the disappointment ― that Yang, one of the league’s stars, was the offender.
Finally, I was appalled at the suspension, which is ridiculously soft.
More than 80 years ago, eight players from the Chicago White Sox who were accused of throwing the World Series games against the Cincinnati Reds received a lifetime ban from professional baseball, even though they were eventually acquitted of the charges. Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, gambled on the Reds’ games in the mid-’80s while he was the team’s manager, and he, too, is banned from baseball for life.
Granted, as far as magnitude, Yang’s scandal ― he predicted the final scores on lottery tickets ― pales in comparison with these other two incidents. However, since Yang is the first Korean athlete to be caught betting on sports, the league should have made an example of him with a stiffer penalty.
Indeed, the league’s disciplinary committee did say on Thursday that it was trying to make Yang an example with its punishment.
But with a 36-game suspension? A 3-million-won fine for a player making 300 million won per season? This is an example? Of what? Does that mean athletes can gamble on sports and, by some bad luck, if they’re caught, only have to shell out some pocket change and take a rest?
Yang had a brush with the law before. Two years ago, the president of Yang’s fan club, a teenager at the time, accused him of sexual assault, for which he was later found not guilty. It was the same fan who apparently bought the sports lottery tickets for Yang based on the scores he had written down for her.
With Yang’s history, suspending him for two-thirds of the season is not the answer. Yang must be banned from professional basketball for life. How that will affect the attendance or television ratings, or how the Promy, a perennial contender, will have to deal with Yang’s absence, should be way down on the league office’s list of priorities. What should have been done first and foremost is to establish a much stronger example.
Whispers have it that other athletes have bet on their own sports, and Yang was the first to be caught. I am not a fan of witch hunts. Everyone’s innocent until proven guilty, no? But the least that must be done here is to let it be known that for athletes, betting on sports is a big no-no, and that trying to score some quick cash isn’t worth losing your livelihood.
By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]