The Hidden Game looks at Rigging Football
Richard Donald Groves
Merrimack, NH: Have you ever watched a football game and seen a referee make a call on the field that seemed so wrong that you immediately became suspicious of the ref? In Richard Donald Groves’ new novel, The Hidden Game, he does just that. He takes that what-if scenario and gives us a thriller ride where refs are being blackmailed into throwing calls, and players are paid to miss a catch and break hard on an opposing player, and if they don’t, they or their family is being threatened with harm. This takes place in the NAFL – National American Football League, a fictitious league where a mysterious group has infiltrated the league all in the name of money, big money, and they and their lackeys make sure plays go the way they have arranged them. If you think this is a far-fetched idea, DraftKings.com, as recent as February, ran an article titled, “Is the NFL rigged?”
Author, Richard Donald Groves.
Chapter one introduces us to the book’s hero, Tony Stravnicki, who is the defensive backs coach for the Columbus Colonels of the NAFL and has seen one too many plays called against his players. This puts him on a path where he begins to look at the tapes of the ref making the calls. This football-based crime drama takes him down a very dangerous path. Bad things start to happen to him. He recruits two people he knew in college: one was a player, and the other had become a private investigator. They begin to find inconsistencies. He also has a nephew, Nick, an FBI agent and forensic accounting investigator who finds money laundering in the Cayman Islands linked to some sport back in the US.
I asked Richard what got him so interested in this topic.
“I was a Patriots fan all through the bad years of the 1960s and 1970s. They were known as the Boston Patriots at that time.” He had seen controversies over the last five or so years with calls and said, “Some were pretty serious stuff that changed the outcome of games and standings. In some cases, it was so blatant, that they couldn’t overturn it. Five years ago, it cost the team a shot at the Super Bowl. It was the very last play of the game. Some years are worse than others. This past year wasn’t so bad; 2021 and 2022 were horrendous to the extent that sports radio talk shows had many callers saying there’s something going on here. This game is rigged. My son would call me up and say this is your book! I had to be very careful when I wanted to explore this concept because, first and foremost, this is fiction. This is in my mind. I created a fictitious football league. The book, while it is about football, that’s only the setting. It’s really a human story of what does a man do when he’s faced with a challenge, and he’s trying to find the truth, how much is he willing to risk, and how will that truth change him?”
Richard published his book through the hybrid publishing program of Köehler Books. Hybrid publishing puts the financial burden on the author and includes line and copy editing, cover design, interior layout, and design, among other items.
I asked Richard what the possibility of sports manipulation is.
“I think it’s very high. The proof to me is incidental. Anything in life where there is money, there is going to be greed and shady things. Roger Goodell never uses the word football. He always talks about product and monetizing the entertainment value. If you look at his interviews over the last ten years, it’s virtually all he talks about. It’s always the business end he talks about. He’s been brilliant. But in terms of raising football value and the value of the teams, he’s given tremendous value back. What came out of the winter meeting is that the NFL will become international in the next five years. As always, he says, follow the money. Ratings. Money. Controversy. On purpose, the NFL thrives on controversy. It generates interest. It’s a year-round interest entertainment business.”
Richard’s bio on the back cover of the book includes: “Retired from a thirty-eight-year career in private practice dentistry and post-retirement he participated in two humanitarian missions to the Pacific on board Navy ships and two “Missions of Mercy” to Appalachia, providing much-needed dental treatment to these areas.”