Monday, September 17, 2007

Playing to Win

Cheating seems to be the big topic of the week. Bill Belichek and the Patriots were cheating by stealing signs from the defensive coordinator of the Jets last week and probably countless other teams in the past.

And now everyone has their collective panties in a bunch on the topic. And after the fiasco with an NBA referee fixing games for gamblers and Hank Aaron’s all time home run record falling to Mr. Cream and Clear himself, Barry Bonds, I suppose we’re all ready to jump on the hoodie-wearing football coach and lump him in with the rest.
I guess I have a problem with that though. While I definitely consider what he did to be cheating, I feel very strongly that it does not belong in the same category as the other two examples.

Barry Bonds took performance enhancing drugs that have very likely prolonged a career that would have ended due to injury or slower reflexes a few years ago. He made his body do things that it couldn’t have done otherwise and I think it’s a shame that he broke Hank Aaron’s record.

Fixing a game, when you’re supposed to be the unbiased arbitrator of that game is heinous. When athletes work so hard, in a game where having one more win could mean the difference in seeding, or even winning a championship or not is cheating of the highest order.

Signal stealing though? In baseball it’s a time honored tradition. Some of the very best managers in the game routinely try to steal the other team’s signs. And to think that Bill Belichek and the Patriot’s are the only NFL team who’s doing it is ridiculous. Is there a specific rule against doing what he did? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes. Is it cheating? Yes.

But I submit that it’s a “wink-wink” rule and it’s “wink-wink” cheating in a sporting tradition where finding unfair advantages is almost as time-honored as the players and sports themselves.

The baseball Hall of Fame is filled with pitchers who threw spitballs and otherwise doctored the baseball they were throwing to make it dance. Some domed stadiums are rumored to turn the air conditioning unit on while opponents are batting to make hitting home runs harder. George Halas, one of the founders of the NFL was known to bug the visitors locker room and listen in before games and at halftime. Paul Brown, another NFL founder used to take his team into the shower and turn them on full blast so old man Halas couldn’t hear what was being said.

Visitor’s locker rooms have been painted pink because it’s a soothing color and holds down aggression. The rims at various basketball stadiums are “hard” or “soft” depending on how good the home team is from the perimeter. The grass in the infield is longer if your infielders are slower, shorter if they are quick.

I’m not condoning what Bill Belichek did and in his place, I wouldn’t have done it. I want to win playing by the rules. I want to beat guys, like him, who bend the rules to their own liking. I want to do it better the right way than they do it cheating.

There is a way to handle this that doesn’t involve taking draft picks from a team, suspending the coach or fining him. In baseball, if you’re suspected of stealing signs, you take a hard one to the ribs the next time you come up to hit. The Jets, who caught the Patriots cheating last week, will play them again later this season. And the honorable way to handle this situation would have been to give them the football equivalent of a hard one to the ribs.

I haven’t heard a single person complaining about the Jet’s tattle-tale. There was once a point where that would have been the greater of the two crimes. Maybe it says something good for us that’s not the case anymore, but I don’t agree.

There is cheating, and then there is cheating. Both are wrong and both against the rules, but one way feels like a snapping of morals, the other a bending. I think there’s something to be said of gamesmanship or whatever other euphemism you’d like to give the creative little cheats that coaches use against an opponent. I think it’s a part of the games themselves, so longstanding and so well embedded that it’s hypocritical to now pretend they are on par with performance enhancing drugs or game fixing.

There is an old saying that comes to mind, one I’ve always loved. It goes like this:

On Winning- It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game

On Losing- It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

On Playing the Game- PLAY TO WIN!


Indiana Jonesing said...

You've inspired me to include some entries and revive my old blogger account. Salud! (Elevens)

Indiana Jonesing said...

Oh, and check my "favorite books". You may recognize one. ;)