Cheating: Is It Part Of The American Culture?

Cheating: Is It Part Of The American Culture?


Leonard Zwelling

The twenty-four hours from Sunday late afternoon, January 12 to Monday, late afternoon, January 13 may have been the worst day in Houston sports history.

On Sunday, the Houston Texans took a 24-point lead into the second quarter of a playoff game in Kansas City only to lose the lead and eventually the game in a matter of minutes. Given that the Tennessee Titans won their game against the Baltimore Ravens, had the Texans won, the AFC title game would have been in Houston the next week. But the Texans played a miserable rest of the game, especially on defense (there was none), and Kansas City will host the title game.

That was bad enough. But at least the Texans lost fair and square. That’s more than can be said for the Astros’ World Series title in 2017. The Astros won, but the Astros cheated. Then they got caught.

On Monday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Astros manager A. J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for a year, fined the Astros $5 million and took away their top draft choices for 2020 and 2021. This is about as severe a penalty as the MLB can mete out. But the Astros’ leaders were not finished with their punishment. Owner Jim Crane correctly fired Hinch and Luhnow. Now the Astros are without any off-field or on-field leadership six weeks from the start of the season. It is very unlikely that there will be any World Series games in Houston for a while. Nor should there be.

Supposedly led by current Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (who just parted ways with that team on Tuesday night), a bench coach in Houston in 2017, the Astros players had worked out a scheme to steal pitching signs from the opposing team’s catchers via a center field camera and convey the coming pitch using technology and a trash can on which players banged to signal the batter the pitch that was coming. This is totally reprehensible, outright illegal and cheating. There is no other word for what the payers and bench coach did, but then Luhnow and Hinch did not stop it either and they, as leaders, need to pay the highest price. Personally, I think every player on the roster for 2017 (and early 2018 supposedly) ought to be suspended for a year no matter who they play for now. I for one, have no intention of seeing any Astros games this year. It saddens me greatly that payers like Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Jose Altuve chose to cheat rather than to compete honestly, but I will not add to their exorbitant salaries with my ticket money. As my grandmother would say—feh!

And on the subject of cheating, you do realize that all the fuss about impeachment is really about whether or not Donald Trump was cheating. Did he extort the president of Ukraine to gather dirt on one of his likely electoral opponents, Joe Biden? I don’t know whether or not this is an impeachable offense, but I do know that what Trump is accused of is cheating.

What is troubling in both the case of the Astros and the case of Trump is that the cheating emanates from a culture in which cheating is considered OK. Is that what America has come to?

Or was it always there?

From the Black Sox scandal in 1919 to numerous ones in college basketball including episodes of point shaving to whatever happened in Illinois during the 1960 presidential campaign, cheating is part of the American fabric and usually is indicative of a corrupted culture. Where did that Teamsters pension fund money go? To build Mafia-backed hotels in Las Vegas? (see The Irishman).

Cheating occurs because the adults in the room, the putative leaders, allow it to occur. They do not make it clear that it will not be tolerated and so it is. As my seventh-grade social studies teacher Ms. Guido used to say before all of our tests:

“It’s not that I worry about you cheating. I know damned well you will. So don’t!”

In the end, it does come down to the requisite culture of tolerance in any organization that bad behavior will not be punished so it goes on. I believe this is true of any organization–in Major League Baseball, in American politics, in academic medicine. Research misconduct derives from an atmosphere of permissiveness. It ends with accountability in leadership. Every example of research misconduct with which I am familiar has a similar story attached to it. The perpetrator is guilty, but the supervisor looked the other way.

If you want to stop cheating, make sure the leaders don’t cheat. And by the way, send the articles of impeachment to the Senate and get on with it. Holding them in the House is cheating, too.

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