Canzano: Sorting out a conspiracy -- or three
JFK, UFOs, Pac-12 refs... how about NBA officials?
George “Bud” Barnum served as one of President John F. Kennedy’s pallbearers. His son, Bruce, is Portland State’s football coach. I had a chance to sit down and talk with the father and son a few years ago.
Do you appreciate a good conspiracy?
It’s why I listened carefully as the elder Barnum told me he was at Andrews Air Force Base when Air Force One arrived from Dallas with the casket carrying the president’s body in November 1963.
Barnum served in the United States Coast Guard and was part of the honor guard. He was instructed to stay with the casket and accompanied President Kennedy’s body from the air base to Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy.
“I saw Kennedy lying on a slab in the morgue,” he told me.
After that, it was onto the White House, the Capitol, the cathedral, and finally, Arlington National Cemetery, where the president was laid to rest. But back at that air base there was a peculiar development.
Bud Barnum was 24 years old at the time. Life moved on after his military service. He and his wife had children, then grandchildren. Over the years he heard all sorts of JFK conspiracy theories. A variety of books have been written on the subject. A pile of movies were made. And there are more than 200 groups that actively meet and discuss the conspiracies surrounding the president’s assassination.
At Andrews Air Force Base, before Barnum and fellow members of the honor guard took possession of the casket, they were ordered into a small room at gunpoint. The door was locked. Outside, over the next 45 minutes, they heard arguing.
No telling if it was the CIA and secret service at odds. Or maybe various branches of the military fighting over who should be allowed into the autopsy. But for the better part of an hour, JFK’s pallbearers were held captive, away from the body, while something important was settled outside that door.
It raises questions, doesn’t it?
The elder Barnum told me he received a note of thanks for his service from Mrs. Kennedy after the funeral. His son, Bruce, recounted in elementary-school reports, the story of the pallbearers being sequestered at gunpoint. The teachers were not always thrilled. But it happened, be sure.
I don’t know if you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or if the Freemasons sunk the Titanic. Did NASA fake the moon landing? Are aliens not only real but living among us? Pac-12 officials plotting for/against your team? Pick your preferred conspiracy, but while we’re on the subject, it’s worth dealing with one involving sports that popped up over the holiday weekend.
Miami won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday, beating Boston 103-84. The Heat advanced to the NBA Finals. But Miami overcame more than just playing the red-hot Celtics on the road in the eyes of sports conspiracy theorists.
NBA officials Tony Brothers and Scott Foster worked 10 combined Miami games in the regular season. The Heat went 0-10 in those games. Brothers and Foster worked the Celtics nine combined games and Boston went 7-2.
Both officials were assigned to Monday’s Game 7.
Some Miami fans cringed and cried foul. Some Boston fans took delight. NBA conspiracy theorists buzzed. But former MLB crew chief Dale Scott saw the fuss on social media and pushed back.
Said Scott: “Although that sounds sensational and is a statistical oddity, it’s meaningless.”
During the 2004 Major League Baseball regular season, Scott worked 14 St. Louis Cardinals regular-season games. The Cardinals went 14-0. He also drew their National League Divisional Series vs. the Dodgers, where the Cards won 3-1. Then, Scott was assigned to the World Series, where some St. Louis fans were delighted that Scott was on the field with their team vs. the Red Sox.
Except, Boston swept the series, 4-zip, ending the conspiracy.
I reached out to Scott after Miami’s Game 7 victory and asked him why he thinks sports fans (and the public) enjoy bringing this kind of stuff up. The former umpire went down a rabbit hole on the subject, calling the conspiracy theories “an occupational hazard” for professional sports officials.
Scott told me: “Look I get it, when a team is going bad it’s a lot easier to claim some kind of a conspiracy than to praise the other team or blast your own. But for years you hear the urban myth that the league itself has somehow instructed umpires or officials to call games for certain teams, usually from big markets, because they don’t want your team in the championship, resulting in low ratings.”
Denver beat the Lakers in the Western Conference Final. Scott is right. Prior to that series, the prevailing thought among some fans was that the league office and Commissioner Adam Silver preferred to have the Lakers vs. Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Bigger markets and brands.
Better TV ratings.
“The thing that gets me,” Scott told me, “is that some fans really believe leagues and officials conspire, that they get a memo or a wink and a nod that says help ‘Team A’ or screw ‘Team B.’
“You and I have talked about this before, officials are going to make mistakes. As an official when it happens, you really hope it’s not in a huge situation that gets magnified, chopped up and have these theories grow from there.”
Scott and I have talked frequently about blown calls and why they happen. He’s become an outspoken advocate for officials and believes referees across professional sports are always trying to get the calls right. Sometimes, they don’t, though.
“Believe it or not, it may be as simple as an official screwing up,” he said. “No malice, no premeditated thoughts, just an unfortunate missed call in a huge situation. It’s our worst nightmare — but come on man — it’s just a mistake, not some convoluted scheme to screw your favorite team.”
I suppose we should all keep that in mind. After Miami’s Game 7 win, nobody brought up the Brothers-Foster factor. It didn’t make news. The Heat won. The conspiracy died. We all moved on.
Now, I’m back to thinking about Andrews Air Force base and JFK’s pallbearers. I’d sure like to know what was happening on the other side of that door. Who was arguing over JFK’s body? And about what?
That one actually happened.
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