Sports - and life - are full of cheaters. It's time we accepted that
You might have heard a phrase growing up: Cheaters never win.
That was hammered to us as children. Cheating is bad. But as you get older, you come to a more cynical understanding: Cheaters win. A lot.
The latest Patriots punishment went largely unnoticed because of the signing of Cam Newton. The most successful franchise in recent American sports history has a long track record of breaking rules and getting punished.
There will likely be tons of cheating talk as baseball restarts because the social media warriors did not get the satisfaction of the Astros heads on a platter and will not let go anytime soon. And that's OK. They cheated. They got caught. They got off light.
But that is the history of sports.
Baseball's greatest era was fueled by performance enhancing drugs. Football teams have long tried to get as much information on opponents as possible. Basketball players flop to try and get fouls called.
And yes, sign stealing is as old as baseball itself.
How many times have you played golf with someone who moved a ball? Shaved a stroke? How many times have you been pencil-whipped in a scramble?
The truth is cheating happens. Sometimes it is lauded as just being more clever than everyone else. Remember when the Astros figured out a pitcher tipping his pitches in the playoffs? That was smart. But using technology to steal signs? EVIL!
That's not to excuse any of this behavior. But players are always looking for an edge. It has been something we have admired in sports for decades. Roger Clemens was lauded for his off the charts workouts. Then when it is suspected steroids were involved, well, he is evil and a cheater. Forget the fact that there was no real proof, or that many supplements were legal at the time. Mark McGwire used Andro when it was legal. It was later banned. Creatine. HGH. And there are new supplements out there that aren't illegal yet. So how do we judge these people?
The best players are more driven than everyone else. The best coaches are smarter. That means looking for every edge and sometimes crossing the line.
So what is the answer? Is Bill Belichick the greatest coach ever or the biggest cheater? Why can't the answer be both?
Truth is, this is how sports works. A "friend" of mine found this out at the age of 8.
He was playing pee wee football with a chance to win a state title. The other team had a terrific running back. His coaches told his team before the game exactly where and when the running back would get the ball, so they would be prepared. It worked perfectly, and he won a state title. Come to find out later one of the coaches had watched every practice that week from a nearby building using binoculars. Getting an edge? Or cheating? It's hard to know where the line is.
And that's why we collectively yawned when the Patriots got caught again. They just keep pushing the boundaries. But that is what the best do - look for every edge.
We celebrate greatness, then look for ways to tear it down. "Integrity of the game" is one of the most overused phrases in sports. Most games have little integrity.
The biggest debates and outcries have come over silly things like trash cans and deflated balls. Did they change the outcome of the game? Because that is the real question in any scandal. As sports betting becomes more mainstream, expect these issues to come up over and over again.
It's nothing new. George Brett's pine tar. Marty McSorley's hockey stick. Mike Scott's scuffed balls. Billy Hatcher's corked bat. Ben Johnson's steroids.
Horse racing has doping scandals almost daily. We all shrug. Fixed fights? That's the game.
The point is there is gamesmanship and there is gaming the system. And then there is outright cheating. And maybe the lines have simply become too blurred. Maybe the best in their sports find ways to get across that line without getting caught, and that brings everything into question. Is Belichick really smarter than everyone else? Is Brent Strom some sick genius who helps pitchers be their best or is there something else at play?
There's another phrase that seems to fit the sports world of today. "If you ain't cheating' you ain't tryin."
That's always been the case. Have you never played tennis with someone who calls all your close shots out? Have you not joked about Joe's "foot wedge" in golf? Ancient Astronaut theorists suggest that Babe Ruth's beer was spiked with a magic potion.
It's always been there. Now with social media we get to endlessly debate it. We build up accomplishments only so we can tear that person down. What we should never forget, however, is that cheaters do win. It's hard to be the best without gaining an edge.
That does not excuse cheating. But let's stop pretending it doesn't go on every day in every sport in some way. And it won't be going away anytime soon, because "winners never quit."