We Americans are an inconsistent lot, and nowhere is that more exposed than in our views on cheating. Sometimes we hold our heroes to the letter of the law, and excoriate them when they break the rules. Other times we just shrug it away, e.g., Ronald Reagan in the debates and later with Contra-Iran or Bill Clinton with his philandering bordering on sexual predation.
Nowhere are our conflicted views more visible than in sports. (That’s not really surprising. We use sports as a laboratory to examine the most critical issues in society—gay equality, equal pay for equal work, violence against women, marijuana legalization, etc.) Sometimes we publicly humiliate sports heroes for cheating and come after them with flaming faggots and pitchforks like a mob storming the castle, e.g., A-Rod, Pete Rose, Sammy Sosa, etc. Other times, we just sort of shrug and wink, e.g., Maradona, Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, and Manny Ramirez.
More often than not, though, we come down on the side of cheaters. We simply ignore their cheating and continue to give them standing ovations at every opportunity, e.g., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Dwayne Wade. “At least they cared enough to cheat” seems to be the predominant feeling. Or maybe it’s a matter of “they’re our cheaters and they cheated for us.” Who knows?
Perhaps our ambivalence is because above all, America is about success. We love success, and don’t like to think too much about where it comes from. Perhaps it’s some cultural equivalent of childhood trauma. America is a nation of refugees, our forebears a gathering of people thrown out of our original countries for the simplest of reasons: We were losers. So we tend to be quick to celebrate winning, and slow to ask how that winning happened, and once we find out, even slower to criticize it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Lance.)
This is a timely discussion because last night the KC Chiefs stomped the living dog shit out of the mighty New England Patriots on TV. The Patriots, under Bill Belichick, have been the most successful football franchise of the last decade and a half. They’ve won three Super Bowls and 77% of their games.
However, they’re also cheats. In September of 2007, they were caught videotaping the final practice (walk-throughs) of opposing teams just before they played. Not surprisingly in a game like football where reaction time is critical, it’s a real advantage knowing exactly what your opponents will do before they do it. The NFL made them stop and imposed the largest fines ever given.
Funny thing, though: in the seven years before they got caught cheating, they won three Super Bowls. Since, they’ve won none. Zero. Nil. They’ve continued to pile up wins at almost the same rate, but no Super Bowls.
It’s proof, were any needed, that cheating works. But wait, there’s more. Belichick acolyte Josh McDaniels went on to become head coach at Denver, and also got caught videotaping competitor practices two years after New England had been outed. McDaniels’ record while he was cheating was 8-8, or a winning percentage of 50%. After he was caught and forced to stop, he went 3-9, or 25%.
And New Orleans was investigated in 2012 for bugging opposing coaches during 2000 to 2004. The year before the bugging started the team went 3-13, a winning percentage of 19%. During the four years of cheating the team went 34-30, a winning percentage of 53%. The year after the bugging stopped the team returned to 3-13.
That is, if they stopped in 2004. The bugging was reported in 2012. In the three years before 2012, the team went to three straight playoffs, won a Super Bowl and had a winning percentage of 77%. Since they’ve gone to one playoff, won nothing, and had a winning percentage of 54%.
Your grandmother said, “Winners never cheat and cheaters never win.” Your grandmother never met Bill Belichick.