We miss the drama of competition. We need to cheer our favorite teams and athletes. But when they come back, what should sports be?
In 1919, eight Chicago White Sox players were banned for life for throwing the World Series in what became known as the Chicago Black Sox scandal. A century later, the Houston Astros were caught using technology to steal opposing teams’ signs to gain so much of an advantage they went on to win the World Series.
Their punishment? They had to forfeit their first and second round draft picks for the next two years, were fined $5 million and they offered gratuitous firings of the team’s GM and manager. No players were sidelined for even a single game as they were guaranteed immunity for testifying.
And what about their fans? Teams and athletes that cheat put them in an impossible position. Either they have to accept an immoral act and embrace the "win at any cost" attitude or turn their back on them. And let's not forget the fans of the losing teams. Are they just supposed to brush it off and say better luck next time? Not likely.
So, we honored America’s pastime by punishing those who cheated to lose, but looked the other way at those who cheated to win. Therein lies the dichotomy.
Famous Cheaters in Sports
The Lance Armstrong Scandal
Lance Armstrong, considered the best professional cyclist of his generation, lost everything after getting caught using steroids when many others in the sport were doing the same thing. He has been shunned and reviled.
Alex Rodriguez lied in 2007 about using steroids for three seasons, then fessed up in 2009. His sentence? Cushy gigs as an ESPN commentator and Jennifer Lopez’s main squeeze.
Where is the justice? Don’t bother looking. It’s not there or anywhere. So why are we shocked when it happens again and again?
In 2001, Danny Almonte, star pitcher for his Mid-Atlantic division team was found to have been two years older than the maximum age permitted to participate in the Little League World Series. Whose idea was that? Dear old dad. So should we be surprised when players of all ages cheat? Look at their role models.
For the record, Almonte’s team had to forfeit all games won in the tournament. A lose-lose situation for the players, coaches, parents and fans.
The New England Patriots Filming Scandal
And let’s not forget the New England Patriots and how many times they cheated. There was Spygate Scandal in 2007 when they were caught with their finger on the button videotaping another team’s hand signals. Fines were assessed and there was a lost draft pick, but on they marched down the field.
2015 brought us Deflategate the infamous NFL football playoff scandal where all but one of the balls for the AFC Championship game were under-inflated so that their superstar quarterback could get a better, and as it turned out, winning grip to drill those touchdown passes into the hands of his receivers. A $1 million fine for the team (chump change for a sport that rakes in more than $8 billion annually) and Tom Brady got to rest those aging knees for four games.
Recent Cheating in Sports
2019. Someone needs to take that camera away from Brady and Belechick who used the footage to gain an advantage. Again, the team was caught illegally videotaping signals. Ultimately, they admitted to the act but labeled it as an “unintended oversight.” Guess they’re either serial cheaters or slow learners.
So what was the outcome of the investigation? Still TBD. Rumors and best guesses continue to circulate. Bottom line? No official decision from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yet. You’d think with all the time he’s had at home he would’ve been able to address this. Guess he put all his energy into that virtual draft TV saga. Never miss an opportunity to deflect attention with a good distraction.
By the way, the coach and beneficiary of those ill-gotten victories was Bill Belichick who is either clueless or the most unlucky coach in sports history to be the victim of the actions of so many immoral co-workers or… he’s one in a long line of “do anything to win” warlords who know as long as they bring home the bacon to their rabid fans and voracious team owners, they’re shielded from the consequences the rest of us would surely face.
And as long as we fill the stands (metaphorically for now until we beat one of the fiercest opponents ever known to mankind) and cheer liars and cheaters on to victory, nothing will change.
Figure Skating Scandals
So that brings us to figure skating. Surely we can’t overlook the long history of scores, results and more that have been “creatively adjusted” ever since big money started rolling in back in the heyday of the sport in the 1980’ and 90’s. As skaters became household names, the potential for profit became more alluring.
But how could the powers-that-be get their hands into the pot of gold? Simple. Control the skaters and you control the revenue. There began the takeover and the corruption of the Olympic games. Judges seized the power of winning and losing from the competitors and hid it under the scoring table out of the view of the audience.
The Drama and Corruption of Figure Skating
Deals were cut. Favors traded between countries. And countless skaters took the ice knowing the results before the first jump was launched. For a while it worked well. Everybody made money as the sport shot to second place in the TV ratings just behind the NFL. But then the power brokers got greedy. They not only wanted a percentage of what the amateur skaters earned, they wanted a piece of the professional pie.
In an extortion scheme that would have made Al Capone proud, they held the Olympics hostage. Give us a cut or you can’t compete once you’ve left the amateur ranks. If the skaters cared only about money, they could have left the ruling federations buried in a pile of ice shavings. The pro skaters had clearly eclipsed their amateur counterparts. But something was more important than profit and the Olympic rivalries. Their competitive spirit. They were willing to put their gold medal reputations on the line for the chance to prove one more time that they were the best of the best.
But they were shut out. That is until a light was focused on the figure skating scandal. All it took was an article I wrote in 1991 that laid out the injustice, generated a groundswell of indignation and ultimately led not only to the re-design but eventual elimination of the pro-amateur structure and a revamping of the entire scoring system.
Happy ending, right? Not so fast.
Since the article that flipped the skating world on its head, more than a dozen major controversies (including that little disagreement between Nancy and Tonya) have hit the headlines and airwaves.
Finally, skaters and commentators have found their voices to speak the truth about these sports scandals and controversies.
But is that enough? Maybe ultimately it will be the power of social media pounding the drum for justice that will cause the desperately needed transformation in sports.
A fair result in a clean competition devoid of behind the scenes manipulations or devious behavior on the playing field. What a concept. So how do we do it?
Very simple. Never stop hoping the best in human beings will prevail. And until it does, demand it.
The sports world needs to acknowledge an inconvenient truth - when you break the rules, you shatter the bond between athletes and fans.
Once sports finally return, like it or not, you need to choose a side like in a good old neighborhood pick-up game. Do you want to be on the team who may win, but ignores rules and fair play? Or will you stand with those of us who believe that doing your best is the true victory no matter the final score?
Time’s up. Get off the bench and get in the game.
A good place to start would be to read The Chosen Ones - my award-winning fiction murder mystery that dares to tell the true story of one of the outrageous examples of cheating in sports history.