The Culture of Cheating

“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

How many times have we heard this in relation to sports? I covered motorsports for a few years at a newspaper, and have blogged about auto racing since, and I’ve heard it a lot. At the local track where late models and figure-8 cars raced, and in national and international series such as NASCAR, Formula 1 and IndyCar.

If you’re not looking for an advantage, some sliver of a gray area in the rules that you can exploit for your benefit and the detriment of your competition, you’re not trying.

* * * *

Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and former seven-time winner of the Tour de France, the crown jewel of cycling, tried very hard, evidently. Suspected for years to be doping, using banned substances to gain an advantage, Armstrong denied, denied, denied.

Now revelations are leaking out for all quarters about how and what Armstrong used to cheat. His sponsors are jumping ship and he has been forced to resign from the charitable organization he founded to help cancer patients battle the disease, just as he had.

A sport with a proud and noble tradition, cycling has been battered and tarnished for years for doping allegations and scandals, to the point where it has become a joke of its former glory. How can anyone look at the Tour de France winner now and not ask the question: Did they ‘try’ or did they cheat.

The man who so many held up as a hero — for overcoming a disease many of us still connote with death and decline, and triumphing in one of the most physically and mentally grueling competitions in the world today, not once but seven times — appears by the weight of evidence to be a fraud and a liar.

* * * *

Of course it isn’t just auto racing or cycling. Baseball, horse racing, track and field, football, boxing, basketball … all have seen scandals involving cheating, either within the games themselves or through manipulation of players such as doping or shaving points.

The “shot heard round the world,” Bobby Thompson’s pennant-clinching home run for the New York Giants in 1951 — a sports event many people use as a guidepost, as in “I remember when …” — was aided by his team stealing the signs of their opponents and giving him a heads up what pitch to expect.

More? Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Marion Jones, the Black Sox, innumerable NCAA recruiting violations.

* * * *

I like to play online computer games, first-person shooters like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2. Depending on the game, I pick a server to play on or am deposited on one, with anywhere from three to seventeen other players also sitting at their computers in places near and far.

Cheating, which is called hacking, is rampant. How rampant? Go to your favorite search engine and type in “Black Ops Hacks” and take a look. Besides the websites offering to sell “undetectable” hacks there are videos, forums, and suggestions for how to discern who is hacking and who is not.

Because of this, the atmosphere during an online match is often tainted with suspicion. A player has an exceptionally good round, and then another and another — making impressive shots and seeming to know in advance where opposing players are — and the allegations begin to fly. “He’s hacking.” “****ing hacker.” “Nice hax, cheater.”

* * * *

Care to look beyond sports?

It has been suggested by studies that 30-40% of unmarried relationships and 18-20% of marriages involve incidents of one or both spouses cheating on the other. How about taxes? How many cheat on their income tax, or how many have discovered a sales clerk rang something up incorrectly, but in their favor so nothing was said?

Do you follow the rules of the road, or are they merely advisory in nature to you?

Cheating in school is said to be on the rise, remarkably so. Anyone see the guy on the TV newsmagazine show who made a comfortable living writing research papers for college students?  Anyone want to venture a guess whether the types of students involved in cheating would include the businessmen and women who led our financial sector into the pit we’re still trying to climb out of?

The whole idea of derivatives as financial instruments strikes me as cheating. Let’s make some money by creating a market for something that no one needs and that does nothing beyond making money for those of us on the inside.

How about the ring of people in Seattle who were caught buying up food stamp debit cards, paying cash for them? Poor folks got money to buy whatever they wanted, while the ring used the cards to bulk buy items at a reduced rate that were later resold for profit.

Pyramid or Ponzi schemes. Politics. ‘Nuff said.

* * * *

We live in a culture of cheating. How we got to this point, where it has become somehow ok in the minds of many to achieve something in any way they can, to look for cracks in the rules or areas not covered by the rules, is beyond me. I suspect it was evolutionary, like a trickle of water cutting through rock to form a canyon.

One drop at a time, from how long ago until now, we’ve created a society where getting ahead, beating everyone else, being richer or prettier or more successful, by any and all means possible, means you’re trying.

A lot of my opponents in online computer games are young, 13-17. These are the years when — despite what they’ll tell you — kids are forming impressions about the world around them based on what they see, hear and experience. Sports stars, news stories, online games: they’re heading into their adult years well versed in the concept of hacking to get ahead.

Why do the right thing and be at the bottom of the sheet when you can do the smart thing and succeed?

* * * *

A commanding officer I served under once told me a person’s true character is shown only in the dark. That is to say, who you truly are, what you truly believe in, is shown only when no one else can see you. Do you brake for pedestrians when no police are around? Would you cheat if you knew absolutely you won’t get caught?

The whole Lance Armstrong brouhaha is what led to the writing of this post. Sadly, I don’t have any answers about how to change the culture we live in. When the game is skewed, the reality is those who are honest will lose most all of the time.

I suppose each of us must make the decision to follow a path of honesty or dishonesty, and to then accept the consequences of that decision.

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