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Why You Should Care About Cheating In Sports

May 09 2009 // Life + Rant + Sports // 3 Comments

Manny Ramirez is the latest athlete to be caught using performance enhancing drugs.


Who Cares!

That seems to be the overwhelming reaction. From radio host Gary Radnich to one of my favorite blogs – Reign of Error – they’re not just tired of the scandals but they fail to see that it’s a problem.

The range of excuses and rationalizations seem endless.

Some view athletics as a form of entertainment and, as such, they don’t see a problem with steroids or cheating. If they’re entertained, they don’t care.

Athletics != Entertainment

I submit that athletics is a form of competition. The competition is entertaining. It is not entertainment. The latter is used by far too many to equate entertainment to business. Athletics is not a business. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people make a business from sports and competition. But they are not synonymous.

If athletics is entertainment then lets get rid of wins and losses and forget about those silly standings. Instead it’ll just be like 81 trips to the movies. I assume you’ll have no problem with that.

By all means, lets crown the winner in terms of who was most entertaining. Forget the World Series, lets track who made the most money and have an end of the year awards ceremony. We can fight about whether the most profitable team should have won the most entertaining team award. Which outfield wins for best supporting cast? That sounds delightful!

Still think sports is entertainment?

Why do people leave when it’s a blowout? It doesn’t mean that there won’t still be home runs or touchdowns or goals or dunks. It means the competition is over! So please stop saying you’d be pleased as punch to sit and watch some ‘roid filled lunk hit 6 home runs in a 34 to 0 laugher.

Can you blame them?

Many say it’s hypocritical to blame these cheaters. ‘Wouldn’t you take steroids if it meant making $20 million a year?!’ My answer is no. I wouldn’t.

I understand this motivation. I acknowledge that it can be a very alluring idea for some. But I would not cheat for money.

The heart of this argument comes down to greed and it exposes a very real problem with American culture.

People seem willing to accept those willing to do anything in the quest for the almighty dollar. Success is no longer about attaining our best through hard work, practice and determination. Success is about attaining a big bank account … period. That sad statement is reflected in our ambivalence toward cheaters.

Cheating is a slippery slope

If it is okay to cheat to make more money, this means Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff shouldn’t be vilified. They were simply taking every advantage they could to get ahead.

This means you shouldn’t be angry at Wall Street fat cats. And don’t even try to be upset about mortgage lenders. No whining about politicians taking money from lobbyists. Stop complaining about black hat SEO and click fraud. Get comfortable with colleagues sleeping their way to the top.

These people are all just trying to gain an extra advantage. They were all just doing what they had to to make a buck.

If you accept cheating in sports, you accept it everywhere. You abdicate your outrage and muddy your ethical discernment. So spare me the ‘hypocritical’ tripe and look for that label in the mirror.

Empathy not sympathy

Some sympathize with the athlete (particularly an aging athlete) who is trying to stay competitive. To them I say that it is okay to empathize with the athlete – you might understand why they did it – but in no way should we condone or accept this behavior.

I understand the weakness of these athletes. Just like I might understand the reasons behind someone perpetrating a violent crime. That doesn’t mean I sympathize with them, nor do I think what they did is okay.

There should be no entitlement to ability nor having the same ability for perpetuity. There is no exemption for entropy.

Winning through cheating is not winning

Let’s give the marathon record to the joker who rode the bus for half the race. Hey, he was just trying to use any means necessary to win, right? What’s the big deal!

Winning is not about short cuts.

In 2003 I completed the Mount Diablo Challenge in one hour and twenty-six minutes. I was not first that day. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I won that day.

A year of training – of hard work, sacrifice and determination allowed me to climb 11 miles and 3,200 feet that day. I still rely on that day and others on my bicycle to remind me that hard work pays off, that seemingly insurmountable goals can be overcome through hard work.

Cheating! I’d wonder if it had been me or the drugs. I’d have robbed myself of that hard won self confidence and fulfillment. No thanks.

Lip service

Oh, we try to promote the idea that it is the journey that matters and not the destination.

It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

We tell our kids this but many now fail to honor this adage. Some, sadly, even find this statement quaint and outdated. And that’s scary because isn’t this what America really stands for?

America shouldn’t cheat freedom to win.

Everyone is doing it

Nonsense! Everyone isn’t doing it, and even if they were every mom has the perfect response.

If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?

Only a few get caught

Others focus on the fact that only a few cheaters get a lot of media coverage and that many cheaters never get caught. I find speeding is a useful analogy to show the specious nature of this argument.

A lot of people speed. Only a few get caught. Those driving candy apple red sports cars at excessive speeds may get caught more often because they naturally attract more attention.

The fact that only a few get caught, or that those driving really fast in extravagant cars are often singled out does not change the fact that speeding is against the law.

Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod and Manny get an unfair amount of attention for their misdeeds because they’re the candy apple red sports cars of the bunch.

Life is unfair. Get over it.

Life Is Unfair

Oddly, some use the ‘life is unfair’ argument in support of cheaters. They throw their hands up in the air and shout that it’s never a truly level playing field.

So I’ll revise the argument. Life is unfair enough without our artificial contribution. Or to rely on yet another saccharine saying – ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right.’

Don’t Cheat Yourself

Don’t give cheaters a free pass. Don’t say it’s okay because it’s just sports. Don’t say it’s okay because it’s entertaining. Don’t say it’s okay because it’s about money. Don’t say it’s okay because you understand why they did it. Don’t say it’s okay because winning is what really matters. Don’t say it’s okay because you can’t catch everyone.

Don’t cheat yourself with these flimsy arguments. Even if you don’t aspire to some lofty ethical paradigm, think of it as preserving your own self interest. Don’t invite cheaters into your own life.

Flyers 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs

December 28 2008 // Sports // 2 Comments

Ticket Stub from Game 1 of Flyers 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs Earlier this year I reminisced about watching the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980s, and in particular their 1987 Stanley Cup Playoff run. My dad was kind enough to bring out the stubs from all 14 home playoff games, prompting another trip down memory lane.

The first series was against the Rangers and Game 1 was a bit of a downer with the Flyers losing 3-0. It was the iconic Ron Duguay, his long flowing locks of hair earning him whistles, who helped put the game out of reach with a second period goal.

The Flyers rallied in the series and took four out of the next five, closing out the series with a 5-0 laugher in New York.

Ticket Stub from Game 7 of Flyers Stanley Cup Playoffs

Next up was the other New York team, the Islanders. The dynasty was aging but hadn’t yet given up the ghost. Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy made it way too interesting and the Flyers ground out a 4-3 series victory.

Now as difficult as it was, there was a measure of satisfaction in beating both New York teams back to back. There was no love lost between Philadelphia and New York. Still isn’t.

The loud slow choruses of ‘Hrudey. Hrudey. Hrudey.’ that echoed the Spectrum served to bind fans together in a jeering serenade of the opposing goalie, Kelly Hrudey.

Ticket Stub for Game 8 of Flyers Stanley Cup Playoffs

Next up was Montreal. The Habs. The defending Stanley Cup Champions. Mats Naslund, Chris Chelios and the feisty Claude Lemieux. Game 1 of the series was special, with Ilkka Sinisalo scoring twice, the second time to win it for the Flyers in OT.

It’s tough to describe the utter joy that you experience watching an over-time game-winning hockey goal in person. Every fan is on the edge of their seat. Each shot is met with an ‘oooh’ or ‘aaah’ and is paired with the back-arching false start spasms of jubilation or dejection. The tension is palpable. The anticipation builds exponentially.

The roar of 17,222 fans when the puck hits the back of the net. Deafening. Unifying. High fives all around. Voice froggy from a night of shouting and watery Diet Pepsi.

The Montreal series got chippy, but what do you expect from the likes of Chris Chelios and Claude Lemieux? In fact, it got so chippy that a brawl broke out between Lemieux and Flyer back-up goalie Chico Resch during the warm-up before Game 6. That’s right, a fight before the game started.

It didn’t matter. Down 3-1 in Game 6 the Flyers scored three unanswered goals to win the series 4-2.

Ticket Stub from Game 14 of Flyers Stanley Cup Playoffs

Which leads us to Edmonton and the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. I was supremely lucky to see the best hockey player of all time: Wayne Gretzky. There is no debate on this point. I’d seen him in plenty of other regular season games but here he was in the Stanley Cup Finals!

The Oilers were loaded with Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and the pesky Esa Tikkanen. While they didn’t win four straight, the Oilers did win four of five Cups between 1984 and 1988. They were good, really good.

The Flyers had a bad habit of falling behind 2-0 in games. So much so that we’d joke that we had opponents right where we wanted them once we were behind 2-0. After two games in Edmonton we were also down 2-0 in the series.

And sure enough, the Flyers fell behind 2-0 and eventually 3-0 in Game 3, before rattling off five unanswered goals to win and send us home with hope. But that was short lived. Game 4, the Flyers again fell behind 2-0, but … lost.

Down 3-1 in the series the Oilers were returning home and planning a parade. A parade?! The disrespect brought curses to the lips of nearly every Flyer fan. Game 5 in Edmonton the Flyers, again, fall behind 2-0. But this time, they battle back and win, sending the series back to Philadelphia. My chance to see one more game.

Game 6 (the 14th home game) and the Flyers, AGAIN, go down 2-0. We have them just where we want them! And we did, pulling out a 3-2 victory and sending it back to Edmonton for Game 7.

Pandemonium. All 17,222 elated, hopped up, screaming, filing out of the building, strangers pumping each other up with congratulations and encouragement. The City of Brotherly Love. High fives down Broad Street.

Yes, the Flyers lost Game 7. It was sad, but the memory of those 14 games more than makes up for it.

Section 38, Row 6, Seat 6.

Hockey Memories

October 31 2008 // Life + Sports // 2 Comments

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to see the Sharks play the Penguins. It’s the first hockey game I’ve been to in a long time and my first at the Shark Tank. I was lucky enough to sit in one of the corporate boxes, which is actually how I was first introduced to hockey in the 1980s, sitting in my Grandfather’s Superbox seats at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The night brought back a slew of powerful and fond memories.

Superbox was great for a lot of reasons. It had a great view, you’d get the stat sheets every period and sometimes injured players would sit there during the game. It’s how I came to get autographs from Tim Kerr and Brad Marsh.

Even better, I got to see Wayne Gretzky in his prime. Not just during the regular season but also during the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals. Hoarse from screaming my Dad took Broad Street home after Game 6. Jubilant Flyer fans lined the street giving the slowly diving cars high fives as they passed.

That year I also went to Europe for a month, three weeks of which was on a bus tour filled with pleasant Canadians. Because I knew hockey I was able to flirt with a very pretty girl from Edmonton named Shelly. The last day of the tour she kissed me.

I remember going to an Eagles game one Sunday morning in 1985. Standing on a packed subway car at Fern Rock station and finding out that Pelle Lindbergh had died. First it was a murmur, then a hush fell over the car. A fan turned up his radio for the rest of us, and we all listened, shell shocked, rocking back and forth, as they described the car crash that had taken the life of such a promising goalie.

Say what you will, Philadelphia fans are passionate. We felt the loss. Deeply.

The girls at my high school were also infatuated with the Flyers and, for good or for bad, my favorite player: Peter Zezel. It got even worse when players turned up in the movie Youngblood. Hockey players were often very approachable so many girls would bring Polaroids of themselves standing with their objects of desire. How could we mere mortals compete?

Soon my Dad got season tickets and I went to more and more games, sitting in the second level, making friends with the other regulars around us. I learned all the motions the refs used to call penalties, screamed at Doug Crossman to stop watching the puck and moaned when Don Koharski made bad call after bad call or swallowed the whistle in the third period.

I recall the walk from the parking lot to the Spectrum. It was usually chilly but full of anticipation, my Dad and I trooping along with a happy plodding group of slightly inebriated fans. We usually sprinted back in an even more bracing night air, parked strategically to get out of the lot as quickly as possible and catch Gene Hart do the post game show on 610 WIP.

Then there was the 1992 All-Star game. My Dad and I went down to get a program and next to us is a familiar looking woman wearing a ‘St. James’ jersey. Who was it? Susan Saint James. Hockey fan. We forgave her for buying a Ranger jersey.

I’m still a hockey fan but just haven’t gotten around to seeing it live, which is a real shame. The energy and vibe produced by the crowd during the game is just unmatched by any sport.

The funny thing is, it felt very much the same as all those years ago. It turns out hockey fans are pretty similar, and what they do in Philadelphia they do out here in San Jose. Though with slightly less fervor.

I’m too far away to go to a lot of games but I’ll make sure I go to more from now on. In the interim, I’ve got my memories. I’ve got Ron ‘Flockey Hockey’ Flockhart and Ron Hextall.

I’ve got Section 38, Row 6, Seat 6.