More and more, we applaud as our teams deal from the bottom of the deck.
More and more, we cheer as they stuff aces up their sleeves.
We are immune to cheating. Worse, we seem to have developed a certain appreciation for it, as if those are the guys who are really trying to win. When is the last college football fan you met who was ashamed that his team had broken the rules? When is the last New England Patriot fan you met who thought it was silly that his team had to keep explaining away broken rules.
And, really, how do we even define cheating anymore?
Is it sucking the air out of a football? Is it corking a bat? Is it spitting on a baseball? Is it Stick-Um all over the jersey? Is it stealing signs? Is it illegal taping of opponents’ practices? Is it tinkering with the headphones? Is it offering a tailback a car? Is it paying a bounty out to your defensive players for knocking opponents out of games? Is it biting someone’s ear? Is it a basketball team in the Special Olympics where people of normal intelligence act disadvantaged? Is it steroids? Is it blood doping?
And for goodness’ sakes, have we entered a gray zone where all the lines are blurred?
They just had the hearing to determine just how bad the New England Patriots have waded in the swill, this time. Maybe quarterback Tom Brady will get his suspension lifted. Maybe he won’t. But is that really the issue here anymore? Or is it something bigger, something dastardly, something that hints some people think rules are made to work around.
Something has been lost to all of us. Time was, Brady was the Boy Scout, a guy who was so admired he was thought too pure to cheat. No more. These days, is anyone?
Is cheating fudging on the salary cap? Is it Vaseline on the jerseys? Is it taking money from gamblers to fix games? Is it illegal blood transfusions? Is it steroid use? It is whacking an opponent on the kneecap? Is it lying about a Little Leaguer’s age? Is it a handball in soccer? Is it accepting bribes to determine where to hold a World Cup? Is it having an NBA teammate knock a cup of soda onto the court to stop play? Is it marking a golf ball nearer to the hole than it should be? Is it pumping in illegal crowd noise?
And if any of it is cheating, where is the shame?
We buy the books of cheaters, and we show up for their appearances. Lance Armstrong. Tonya Harding. Mike Tyson. Pete Rose. All of them making a fine living telling us about the days they cheated. All of them have reached iconic status because of their admissions and their confessions, sometimes in the same breath.
Is there a bit of grudging admiration for Alex Rodriguez? Once, there was a sign at the University of Florida football stadium. “Hell, yes, we cheat” it boasted. That pretty much sums it up for most of us. If you can win, then the cheating was justifiable. Always.
That’s the biggest problem with cheating. It isn’t worse than losing. And until it is, we’re going to continue to cheat.
If you are a Seattle fan, don’t you wonder? Don’t you imagine what depths of rule-breaking the Patriots might have employed on their way to beating you in last year’s Super Bowl? Certainly, we have established that the Patriots are capable of it. So, in the biggest game of the season, why wouldn’t they cheat? Why turn Boy Scout at the last moment?
Is it illegal practices? Faking a marathon finish? Loading boxing gloves? Sharpening your spikes? Using an emery board? Over-curving a hockey stick? Over-use of pine tar? Flopping? Is it altering grades in college football? Is it hiring an uncle? Signing a teammate? Is it making up a girlfriend to make yourself look more sympathetic in a story? Is it a coach stopping a punt returner? Is it hacking into another team’s database? Is it using an iPod during an Iditarod?
Time was, a cheater was a lovable rogue. A borderline player. A spitball thrower. A coach who spied on other team’s practices. Stick-um.
More and more, however, there are new and inventive ways to shatter the rules, to treat them like yield signs on a highway. In the end, we are all lessened, and sports is cheapened, and winning is tarnished. It seems at times as if the world has become a collection of cheats, and everyone is stuffing aces up their sleeves.
Look, the Patriots will never regret Deflategate, because they won a title, and because of that, everyone who criticizes is just a hater. A-Rod still owns records. A hundred figure skaters have come and gone, but Tonya remains a celebrity.
Think of it this way: If your baseball team could win by somehow skipping third base, would you applaud the skill it took? The cleverness?
These days, are rules just something to get around?