History is written by the victors, and it’s really not a surprise that no one really talks about things like the Joy Miller scandal of 1909, or the mess that led to Harry Kipke’s firing in 1937, or the benching of Willis Ward at the 1934 Georgia Tech game (at least before Black and Blue came out).
In 1958 a Michigan Daily writer named Barton Huthwaite exposed a gambling ring on campus that led to the arrest of a few notable students including a fellow Daily writer and couple prominent athletes. While betting on football wasn’t (and isn’t) exactly unheard of around the country, the report and arrests caught the eye of the nation—all the way up to media heavyweights such as The New York Times, LIFE Magazine and Sports Illustrated. LIFE broke it down this way:
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, already disgruntled by a miserable football season [LOL], last week was deep in another kind of football dilemma. The varsity fullback, the basketball captain and five other students had been arrested for selling football gambling cards on campus.
To a lot of student the real villain was Barton Huthwaite, an editor of the Michigan Daily. Huthwaite, with another staff member, joined the card-selling group, then informed the local police. The police hoped to trap the racketeers who run the gambling business. But someone tipped off the ring, and only a few salesmen were caught. The sale of pool cards, which offer the buyer a chance to pick four or more football winners each week, is widely accepted in the U.S. But it is legally a misdemeanor in Michigan and all seven students were arraigned for trial.
As university authorities suspended both of the athletes from their teams, hotheads on campus called Huthwaite a stool pigeon and hanged him in effigy. But as many Michigan students defended the informer as attached him.
The fullback was named Tony Rio; the basketball captain named Jack Lewis. Then-athletic director Fritz Crisler suspended both of them pending the results of their trial and via Sports Illustrated, he commented, “It is necessary for athletes to maintain even higher standards of conduct than are expected of students generally.” Echoing the feelings of many out there, the SI piece opined that this mess fell into a gray moral area:
Were these young men the equivalents of urban gangsters running some evil policy racket? Or were they innocently engaged in a pastime shared by millions all over the U.S.? No matter how you look at it, and through no fault of the students themselves, the answer comes out gray.
Rio and Lewis eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Rio was reinstated and played the 1959 season under new coach Bump Elliott and was and named team MVP. But there’s more to this story…
In Part II. According to Bart Huthwaite the attempted sting on the gambling ring went all the way up to the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (!) and there were bigger fish they were trying to fry. How do I know? I tracked down Mr. Huthwaite and chatted with him about this incident, why he wrote the story, about how it felt being hanged in effigy, how he protected himself, the reaction on campus, and…about how he ended up in Cuban prison while on Spring Break (seriously!) and much more. Read it here.
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