Nobody wants to be called a cheat, but it’s amazing how many people are willing to risk getting caught cheating or believe with all their treacherous hearts that they won’t get caught. The idea of fame and fortune softens a possible fall from grace.
Cheating always has been around in sports. I suspect that things began to go south for Adam and Eve when one of them doctored the forbidden fruit in a throwing contest (Applegate?). Of late, however, we’ve had a rash of cheating accusations, which naturally leads us to ask whether the people and games we watch are dirtier than ever.
There’s no data to lean on, but it’s more than fair to answer the question with, ‘‘Sure, why not?’’
As the money in sports continues to grow, so, too, does the temptation to take shortcuts to get to it. The capacity to feel shame certainly has shrunk.
Let’s rate each of the recent cheating allegations — using a Shame Meter I just made up — on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being low-level shame, such as flicking lint off the sleeve of a jacket, and 5 being total humiliation, the kind that makes the guilty party beg to be pilloried in the public square.
Patrick Reed’s sand-trap shenanigans: Do NOT refer to what Reed did during the Hero World Challenge last month as cheating. If you do, you might get a cease-and-desist letter from his attorney, who already has demanded that Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee stop repeating accusations that Reed did, indeed, break a rule on purpose.
TV cameras showed the 2018 Masters champion twice moving sand from behind his ball in a bunker. It’s illegal in golf to improve your lie in a trap. Reed said he didn’t mean to gain an advantage, but his only supporters in the matter seem to be his lawyer and his lawyer’s billable hours.
Golf holds itself up as a gentleman’s game. We know this because, during tournaments, the networks play sappy music more fit for lovers running toward each other in slow motion than for a 7-iron hit into a stiff wind. Reed is going to be a marked man for the rest of his life.
On the other hand, former PGA Tour pro Chris DiMarco tweeted of him a few days ago, ‘‘Is there a bigger d— in the world?’’ That tells me Reed might not experience disgrace the way a normal person would. Shame Meter Rating: 2.
The Patriots’ video antics: During a Browns-Bengals game last month, a Patriots videographer filmed the Bengals’ sideline. The Bengals were the Patriots’ next opponent, but no, no, no, the Patriots said, they weren’t trying to steal coaches’ signals! The videographer merely was taking footage for a website feature on the Patriots’ advance-scouting department! Of course!
Coach Bill Belichick’s record in the honesty department is dismal. He was dropped as a baby, and his conscience never regained consciousness. He has been involved in the Spygate and Deflategate scandals. And now this. He’ll use any advantage, fair or not, to defeat his opponent.
Football is very much not a gentleman’s game, and there seems to be more moral leeway given in the NFL to ‘‘getting an edge,’’ also known as ‘‘cheating.’’ Combine that with the Patriots’ inability to be embarrassed by just about anything, and you get this enhanced feature: Lifetime Shame Meter Rating: 1.
The Astros/Red Sox’ sign-stealing controversy: Major League Baseball is investigating both teams for allegedly using technology to steal opposing catchers’ signs.
In the Astros’ case, a dugout monitor connected to a center-field camera reportedly let the team know what pitches were coming during portions of its 2017 World Series season. Someone with the club would bang on a garbage can to alert the hitter that an off-speed pitch was on its way. In the Red Sox’ case, MLB is investigating whether the team used a replay monitor to learn opponents’ signs in its 2018 World Series season.
Stealing signs is nothing new; teams have tried to do it for decades. Knowing when a fastball is coming is like knowing the winning lottery numbers before there’s a drawing.
It’s the rush of technology that’s rocking MLB’s world. How do you control something that seems to be changing all the time? I have a double whammy for the powers that be: Not only is it going to be more difficult to catch teams cheating as technology becomes more advanced, but it’s going to be increasingly difficult to catch players who are using more sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs.
So, yes, it’s entirely possible that, in 20 years, we’ll watch a muscle-bound athlete who has been tipped off to the next pitch take a mighty swing at a juiced baseball. Or, as the sport will be known then, the Home Run Derby.
Expect more long balls, more cheering and more money for major-league teams. Shame Meter Rating: 2.
Russia’s ban from the next two Olympics for doping: The national sport of Russia is cheating. If you were surprised last month when the World Anti-Doping Agency banned the country from the Tokyo Olympics this summer and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, there’s a good chance you just had wandered out of a forest and thought World War II still was going on.
Russia was banned from the 2018 Winter Games for its state-sponsored doping program, and the same sort of dirty business is the basis for the new ban. As in 2018, if a Russian hasn’t been implicated in the country’s cheating scheme, he or she can compete as an unaffiliated athlete.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev called the ban ‘‘a continuation of this anti-Russian hysteria, which has already acquired a chronic form.’’
Soon after Medvedev’s comments, Russia interfered in the Soap Box Derby, allowing Timmy to beat Bobby. In unrelated news, Timmy said Russian president Vladimir Putin was ‘‘misunderstood.’’ Shame Meter Rating: Minus-2.
Shame isn’t nearly what it used to be.