Photo above: Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong defending himself against doping allegations on ESPN, before coming clean and admitting to cheating in all seven of his Tour de France victories. (YouTube)
Television and radio sports personality Jim Rome is known for saying, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Sadly, in the world of sports, and just about everywhere else, he is right. However, the public fools itself into thinking we need to hold athletes accountable for cheating while far too often giving passes to those outside of sports.
Baseball’s Hall of Fame voters have once again rejected Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire despite their awesome career statistics. It seems the voters feel there is no place in the Hall for cheaters and yet, they forget baseball, and all other sports, has a long history of cheaters. Athletes are no different than the rest of the public. They are constantly seeking ways to gain an advantage even though they know what they are doing may not be allowed.
Today, major sports organizations have implemented drug-testing programs designed to rid their sports of cheaters, at least that is what they would like us to think. But if you examined what athletes and owners have agreed on as acceptable levels of testosterone, you would find many accept levels as much as five times higher that what doctors claim to be normal. That alone should help explain why we have so many domestic violence issues among athletes. And testosterone is just one area of drug-testing.
In many sports, caffeine levels less than eight times the amount found in a cup of coffee are considered acceptable. I don’t know about you, but if you give me seven cups of coffee, I am going to need an elephant tranquilizer to bring me back down to earth.
Many American athletes, including Kobe Bryant, travel to Europe to have stem cell and other procedures done for injuries that are not allowed inside the United States. Is this cheating? How about the base runner who steals the signs the catcher gives to the pitcher so he can tell the batter what pitch to expect? What about the player who fakes an injury to stop the clock? Let’s face it, cheating is part of sports.
It is generally accepted the 1990’s was an era of wide spread cheating throughout all of sports. Baseball was full of cheaters as fans flocked back to the game to see players smack towering home runs and toss 98 mile per hour fastballs. Football players grew, and grew, and grew while getting faster and more powerful. Skinny power forwards began looking like massive giants and no one cared.
Then there was Lance Armstrong. Seems he cheated to win each of his seven straight Tour de France titles and was stripped of each one. The only problem was cycling had so many cheaters there was no one to award his titles to so they sit vacant. If everyone was cheating, did anyone gain an advantage? If not, why strip someone of their titles?
Should we care if a doctor shoots up an athlete with painkillers so he can go out and play a game when we do not care if another doctor does the same so a singer can perform a two hour concert? Should it matter if an athlete uses steroids to land a big contract when actors will use them to land a role as a super hero in a blockbuster film?
I am not embracing cheating nor do I recommend it as a practice. However, we live in a country where the sitting Vice President plagiarized others in speeches he gave when he ran for president in 1988. Try going to the DMV. It is filled with people who cheated their way into the country but are now allowed to get a drivers license. How do you think this makes the people who came here legally feel? We have a much-admired former president who cheated on his wife while in office and there are some of you who will read this who won’t think twice about cheating on your income taxes. So why do we play the moral police with athletes?
It strikes me as strange we can sit in such harsh judgment of athletes who cheat to gain an edge over their opponent and not care that bankers and CEO’s cheated the nation out of one-third of all its wealth in 2008, only to be bailed out by politicians who thrive on the art of cheating.
Perhaps it is time for a little more consistency on the part of everyone. If we are not going to clamp down on all cheaters, maybe it is time to forget about the athletes who have done what seems to be generally accepted in all other aspects of American life.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.