The wonder years
They make you wonder if anyone isn't cheating
Posted: Tuesday September 18, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Tuesday September 18, 2007 2:23PM
Once -- just once -- before you take the Big Dirt Nap, wouldn't you like to watch a sports event that you knew -- KNEW -- with utter, verifiable certainty was being played in strict accordance with the rules and the spirit of good sportsmanship?
I'm not talking about your kid's rec league soccer game, although you never really know with those, do you? I'm talking about watching a pro, college or international-level event in any game you care to name that is contested without illegal equipment, juiced or improperly procured players, spying, stealing and any other form of rulebreaking.
I mean, since you're paying or wagering your hard-earned and quite possibly counterfeit Benjamins, wouldn't you -- just out of curiosity -- like to know who the winner would be if everyone played clean and fair?
From the Balco boys and Bill "The Hills Have Eyes" Belichick to the Ramblin' Gamblin' NBA Ref to Formula One (McLaren was socked with a record $100 million fine for using rival Ferrari's secret data), the Women's World Cup (Danish team officials discovered two guys with video cameras lurking behind a two-way mirror in a hotel room where the team was to discuss strategy) and the Tour de France (half the field disqualified for doping), cheating is so pervasive and relentless that every score, result and -- especially -- exceptional achievement smells funny.
Bread it, damn it and fry it, you can't even have a traditional barroom argument anymore. Last week on FanNation, I got into a throwdown with my esteemed colleague Richard Deitsch about who is the better coach -- Belichick or Tony Dungy. Before Spygate, this was a don't-make-me-laugh-my-lips-are-chapped question. Now every one of Belichick's wins is under a mushroom cloud and I found myself holding my nose and drifting toward the last refuge of a scoundrel: the everyone-does-it-and-Big-Bill's-just-better-at-it defense. It's the kind of cop-out rationale I loathe and Dungy/Deitsch came out the hands-down winner.
Sadly, it's one thing to say that Dungy wins the right way and would never pinch a fiver from the collection plate while the vicar's back is turned, but how do you KNOW for sure? We all want our champions and major milestones to be pure, but after all that has happened since the Great Home Run Chase of '98 was unmasked, aren't you waiting for the other piece of footwear to fall in the tale of Lance Armstrong's seven straight Tour de France crowns? Will you be truly shocked if Tiger Woods or Roger Federer is revealed to have used some type of illicit equipment or emolument?
This kind of stuff has been going on since the start of the human race (the winner was disqualified for being on Stanozol). Goliath was surely on HGH, but David's slingshot was likely corked, whaddaya wanna bet? No one, I mean no one, is above suspicion. Heck, even Bernie Brewer was accused by Rangers manager Whitey Herzog of stealing signals from his perch atop the big mug at Milwaukee County Stadium way back in 1973.
It's heartening, I suppose, that cheating can still be a big story and that so many of us remain willing to decry it. But let's face it, bending and breaking rules is widely accepted -- admitted greaseball guru Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame -- and chortled over if not encouraged as "really trying." It's just that some forms of rulebreaking are more egregious than others, and the level of egregiousness goes way up if the cheater is someone we dislike or belongs to a team we loathe or envy. But even garden-variety nyuk-nyuk-nyuk "gamesmanship" like cutting the heat and hot water in the visiting team's locker room or pulling the plug on their coach's headset at a crucial moment is getting tiresome.
As long as sports matter so much to so many of us, are played for such huge rewards, and winning is the bottom line, cheating will be inevitable and the cheaters will continue to expend as much effort staying ahead of the rules as they do on the field. That means the only straight game in town is rooting for the cops -- the league honchos who go after and collar rulebreakers. That's assuming, of course, that the cops aren't crooked, too. You never know. This ain't the golden age of trust, boys and girls. Every postseason brings a hail of "the league favors team-name-here" accusations in web fan forums.
These really are the wonder years. They really make you wonder if there's an honest sportsman anywhere.
It's often a short stroll from saint to sinner, and it appears that master film producer Bill Belichick (Patriot Games, The Patriot) has been caught on tape portraying a man of the cloth -- the Reverend Eric Camden -- in the beloved TV series 7th Heaven. A clever cover for more nefarious activities? Mere coincidence? Or a cheap, tawdry gimmick to pad out this thin broth of a column? We say, Yes, of course. But you decide.