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originalThe Sports Illustrated cover of American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown is one of the most compelling sports images I’ve ever seen, even though it violates tenants of good sports news photography.

It’s busy. It reminds me of sort of a “Where’s Waldo?” drawing.

What is supposedly the subject of the photo — the winning horse and jockey — is too small.

And there’s no real context of where the horse is in the track, at least for those of us who are not familiar with Belmont Park.

Yet it is absolutely captivating. Even the irreverent, snark site Deadspin liked it.

For me, the image brings together the past, present and future of American sports.

The past is horse racing, which once was one of America’s most popular spectator sports. Part of its allure no doubt was being the only legal form of gambling available to most Americans.

The present is all those fans trying to capture the moment with their phones.

The future? It’s a little harder to spot.

Look closely and you can see three signs for DraftKings, the fantasy sports site that promises players can win a “shipload of money” in TV ads that run incessantly during sports programming.

The prospects of additional revenue streams seem to be tempting pro sports leagues to lower their guards when it comes to sports gambling.

Once upon a time, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were barred from giving batting tips to young Giants and Yankees players in spring training because the two former stars were employed by casinos as goodwill ambassadors.

Now it seems like every major league team has a sponsorship with some casino or a state lottery.

The latest step is the official association with companies that are turning a longtime popular social gambling activity — fantasy leagues —  into a big business.

DraftKings has a tight relationship with Major League Baseball. There’s a marketing agreement between the two entities, announced before this season. And it turns out MLB has been an investor in DraftKings for a couple years.

The NBA has partnered and invested in DraftKings’ fantasy rival FanDuel.

And further lowering of the guard may be coming.

ESPN the magazine lauded NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his realistic outlook on the inevitability of widespread legalized sports gambling.

Pro sports have slid down a slippery slope.

The bans of Mays and Mantle bordered on ridiculous. But by getting into bed with casinos and now a high-stakes fantasy site, baseball has not yet crossed the line, but the sport has its toes on the line.

Against this backdrop, ESPN is reporting it has evidence that Pete Rose bet on baseball while he was a player/manager.

Though there is no evidence that Rose threw games, the allegations if true, are damaging. The Rose case shows that potential problems with gambling for baseball are not from the ancient past. The forces that lured Rose to violate baseball’s rules are as strong today as 30 years ago or in 1919.

Baseball’s strong prohibition against gambling, of keeping a clear distance from gambling interests, was put in for good reasons. And other sports followed. The prohibition serves not merely to prevent players from throwing games but to prevent the public from worrying about games being on the up and up.

Keeping that distance has kept baseball largely free of scandals involving fixes (the PED scandals, as well as instances where players doctored balls and corked bats, are cases of players going too far in an effort win) for nearly a century.

The slippery slope of course is a logical fallacy. Then again, public perception often strays from the rules of logic.

Baseball and other sports would do well to keep — and perhaps increase — their distance from gambling.

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