Who Says Cheaters Never Prosper?

February 18, 2015

baseball-little-league-world-series-west-region-vs-great-lakes-regionAn old quote frequently used in the NASCAR world seems more appropriate than ever across the entire sports landscape: “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’ hard enough.” In fact, nearly headline over the past few weeks has something to do with cheating.

  • Alex Rodriguez apologized for “his actions of the last several years,” which is apparently code for “taking a massive amount of performance-enhancing drugs”
  • The New England Patriots were accused of illegally deflating footballs
  • The best receiver in NFL history, Jerry Rice, admitted using “stickum,” a goopy (and banned) substance players slather on their hands to help catch the ball
  • The Atlanta Falcons were found guilty of pumping fake crowd noise into the Georgia Dome
  • A number of prominent UFC fighters, including all-time great Anderson Silva, tested positive for steroids
  • Syracuse University issued a self-imposed postseason ban on its men’s basketball team for a number of violations, including academic fraud
  • Minnesota’s state high school dance team champions caused an uproar for allegedly ripping off their winning routine

Sadly, that’s just a partial list. And the saddest story of them all: a Chicago-based Little League baseball team was stripped of its U.S. Championship last week for using ineligible players from outside their district.

It’s made so much worse because these 12-year-old kids didn’t decide to cheat. The coaches and other adults associated with the team did. They thought they knew what was best: winning at all costs.

I’m not someone who believes youth sports needs to be all affirmations and ice cream either.

I used to coach Little League baseball, and I’ve never liked the idea of coddling kids by deciding not to keep score during games, or by giving everyone a participation trophy. I think that’s more about making sure the parents don’t get too worked up. The kids know who won and who lost, even if there’s no scoreboard. And that’s okay.

Valuable lessons can be learned from competition at a young age:

  • When you win, be gracious
  • When you lose, be a good sport and work harder to improve
  • When you don’t have the physical talent, outsmart the competition

But the lesson should never involve cheating – particularly when it’s being taught by coaches and other role models.

There’s a nice balance somewhere between coddling and cutthroat.