Say It Ain’t So, Lefty!

Phil Mickelson“Lefty” is my golfing hero. If I were to sit next to him when we were flying coach from Greensboro to Buffalo, I would tell him so. Hell, I would move from the aisle seat to the middle seat just to show him what a fan I am. Not likely he’d be sitting next to me; he owns a Gulfstream V that costs about $40 million exclusive of the peanuts.

Most of us hear the name of “Phil Mickelson,” and we think about how lucky some guys can get. He has been on the professional circuit since the early 1990s. He usually finishes in the money; high up in the money. He seems to have a great family life (I don’t get invested in idiotic rumors — it’s unethical) and he is a veritable endorsement machine.

Even if you think golf is the biggest waste of time human-kind has ever created, chances are you’ve still seen Mickelson on a TV commercial. Worried he can’t afford the “Jet-A” for his jet? In 2011 alone he earned more than $62 million dollars; $53 million of it came from endorsements. He won’t be stretching his meal with Hamburger Helper tonight.

“Lefty” Likes his Gambling

If you wanted Phil Mickelson to become crowned the next king or elevated to sainthood, it’s not going to happen. He likes his gambling vices. He is legendary for betting his peers big money in the practice rounds before tournaments. I have read that some of them do not like it. He also likes his football action.

However, there is gambling and then there is Gambling. It’s not the amount of money gambled, but it is the “how” of it all. That is where I might throw in my two cents were I to bump into him while we were waiting at the rental car counter for our economy cars. I would tell him how precious and irreplaceable a good reputation can be.

In a story for NBC Golf by Nick Menta (June 29, 2015) entitled: “Report: Mickelson tied to illegal gambling case,” we learn:

“Phil Mickelson wired nearly $3 million to an intermediary who was part of ‘an illegal gambling operation’ which accepted and placed bets on sporting events…the report states that Mickelson has not been charged with a crime and is not under investigation, but that $2.75 million worth of his money was transferred to an individual, Greg Silveira, who has since pleaded guilty to three counts of money laundering.”

This is where we go from smack and side bets, to something of a more serious nature.

If you have heard of the term “money laundering” but were unsure of what it meant (and I am guilty of greatly simplifying), it means you take funds that you illegally gained, and through a series of razzle dazzle accounting maneuvers they come out looking as honestly earned as newly fallen snow.

What makes money “dirty” in the first place? It is how it is derived; for example, money from untaxed gambling or drugs or a theft or a business accumulating a large amount of cash that was never reported for taxes.

Sometimes the dirty money is put or kept “off-shore,” the Bahamas or Bermuda or Switzerland, perhaps; where the rules are relaxed. If I go to Las Vegas and I win $1 million on a nickel machine, I must pay taxes on it. If I bet $3 million off-shore and make millions in winnings, I may get away with not paying taxes to anyone.

No charges and no crime

The article points out that Mickelson was not named in the official court documents, and Mickelson claims to have never heard of the illegal gambling operation, though all inquiries about the incident are now routed through his lawyers who still have nothing to say. To quote from the article:

“The closest Silveira allegedly came to naming Mickelson, was in his initial plea agreement, which included a note in his book that said: ‘money laundering of funds from P.M.’”

In addition, and again quoting Menta’s piece:

“ESPN’s legal analyst Lester Munson explains that the likely reason Mickelson hasn’t been charged is that ‘federal gambling laws are directed at gambling enterprises and not at individual bettors.’” It’s not that Mickelson’s $2.75 million gambling investment is small potatoes to the government, it’s only that they are after the people who cultivate the whole potato farm.

In the past Mickelson has also been associated with insider stock trading. He got off, but not before his sterling reputation received a few scratches and dents.

What is a person’s greatest asset?

Whether you are a high school golf coach, a club pro or the guy who fixes the electric golf carts, your greatest asset is a good reputation. It is a rock solid, foundational element of sports ethics. Years after a man or woman stops playing a sport, what will be remembered is their reputation.

No one is stupid here. All of the fingers allegedly point to the “P.M.” in Silveira’s sports book as being Phil Mickelson. For a man who makes a huge income from endorsements, risking a reputation is extremely foolhardy.

Why would a person “with all of the money in the world” want to play the money laundering game? Well, we know that gambling is a potent addiction; so is winning. It is power; it is being in command of the very odds of life. Except, of course, we never really are. The more addictive and thrill seeking a pursuit, the more a person is willing to risk. You can lose your money, but a loss of reputation is another matter. At some point, a person can take a stupid risk for which an easy return is not possible. I know this last bit of information with absolute certainty.

If P.M. and I were able to talk over the free breakfast at the hotel, I would tell him to not screw around with his reputation. No, I would tell him to knock it off. There are far too many of us who respect him.

Chuck Gallagher, Sports Ethics LLC

(828) 244-1400




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