“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Somehow that phrase became acceptable in competitive sports with rule makers, athletes and even fans turning a blind eye to those who were trying to get around the rules.
“I knew he was cheatin”, Richard Petty said on Thursday at Daytona referring to David Pearson. “’Cause I was cheatin’ trying to keep up with him.”
Everybody laughed at the King’s comments but it struck me as strange. I don’t want to know that Richard Petty was cheating. I want to think of him as a great, dominating driver of his era. Getting around the rules though, was part of the game. That was the culture of NASCAR and it hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years.
This year the sport’s governing body has tried to crack down on cheating, trying to bring a higher level of credibility to the sport. Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson, two of the sport’s biggest stars, have incurred big fines and suspensions because their cars didn’t conform to standards.
Is that attitude around everywhere else?
For most sports it’s not the equipment that can be tinkered with, it’s the athletes themselves. And that’s where the line is blurred.
Putting jet fuel in a car to make it go faster is one thing. Putting jet fuel ‘in your body to go faster is something else. But at the highest levels, where the money is the greatest, athletes and competitors seem to be willing to try anything, even if it might kill them, to get an advantage.
Cycling has a culture of cheating that has nearly wrecked the sport. Cyclists used to ingest just enough strychnine, a poison that also apparently made them go faster, before races even though the wrong amount would kill them. Cycling is paying a big price, right now, for looking the other way for decades while their competitors put all kinds of things in their bodies looking for an advantage.
I guess we have to remember that top-flight athletes are also young and generally think they’re invincible and immortal. Baseball and football players jumped on the “cheating” bandwagon within the last three decades, taking anabolic steroids to give them that slight advantage or that one more year in the league. Have you seen pictures of either game from the ‘70’s? The players look like Baseball players can also tinker with the equipment, corking bats to make the ball jump off a little farther.
But where does the blame lie, if there is any blame at all?
NASCAR signed a big-money television deal a few years ago and knew they’d have to clean up the sport if they were going to withstand the spotlight that would inevitably come with increased exposure.
Football instituted a steroid policy in the ‘90’s, knowing fans would turn away if the game was only played by a bunch of juiced up freaks.
Baseball finally created a drug abuse policy when long-held records started to fall and people started to ask the simple question: Why?
8 So how do we break out of this culture of cheating? If the governing bodies won’t come up with a strict enough testing policy, it’s up to the fans, the paying public to demand it. Not by writing letters to the editor or calling sports talk radio but by not supporting it. Don’t buy tickets, don’t buy merchandise and don’t watch it on television. The powers that be get the message very quickly.