Cheating In Sports: Why Does It Happen?


      The sports industry is vast. In fact, it’s so all-encompassing that it brings in nearly $70 billion dollars every year. The better a team or an individual athlete does the more money they bring in. Due to this simple fact, players, coaches, and general managers try to gain any advantage that they can possibly attain in order to gain an edge. Sometimes this involves going outside the rule book. In the past month, both Jason Kidd, head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, engaged in some illegal activity late in close games to try and give their team an edge. For both coaches and teams, the act did not help them win the game and both coaches were hit with fines and the Steelers are reportedly going to lose a draft pick as well. But despite these penalties, coaches and players will still do whatever they can to gain an advantage, even knowing that heavy sanctions will likely follow the act, depending on its severity. This begs the question as to why players and coaches cheat and if anything will ever completely stop cheaters.

The first thing that must be considered is what exactly is cheating in the sports world. The dictionary defines cheating as “acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage,” but this interpretation is extremely constricting in the sports world. For example, if a catcher in baseball frames a pitch that is a little off the plate to make it look like a strike and the umpire calls it a strike, couldn’t that be considered acting dishonestly or unfairly? The catcher is lying to the umpire about where he caught the ball, so technically that could be considered dishonest or unfair, but nobody would consider framing a pitch cheating. This is what makes cheating in sports so interesting, the fact that some things that may seem wrong or unfair are totally fine while others are against the rules. There are basically two categories that cheating in sports can be placed into. First is the legal cheating, or the kind that is viewed upon as fine by the rule books by tricking the umpires into giving you a call, like trapping a line drive in baseball or flopping in soccer. The second kind involves performing acts that are outlawed according to the rulebooks and hoping to get away with it, such as Mike Tomlin did during the Thanksgiving Night football game against the Ravens by being on the field during play. “Spy-gate,” which refers to when the New England Patriots were caught taping the opponent’s defensive signals during the 2007 season, resulted in head coach Bill Belichick being fined $500,000 and the team being fined $250,000. Additionally, there is the story of Rosie Ruiz, who became famous in 1980 for cheating during the Boston Marathon, coming out of the crowd a mile before the finish to claim first place in the race. This category also would encompass the use of performance enhancing drugs that are banned in order to be a better athlete come game day. Performance-enhancing drugs are without a doubt the number one source of cheating in sports. People in all different sports use PEDs, including both men and women. It seems as though every year a new star athlete is revealed to have used performance-enhancing drugs of some sort at a point in their career, tainting many record books and even taking away some athletes achievements completely. Therefore, cheating in sports can’t be any act that is considered dishonest or unfair, but anything that is against the rules.

While cheating differs at every level of athletics, it holds especially true for college sports. Cheating in college is different because the cheating most often doesn't happen on the field, it happens off of it. Illegal recruiting, improper benefits for players, and holding more practices than allowed by the NCAA are but a few of the many ways that cheating can be done off of the field. These illegal  practices are not uncommon, as it seems that multiple times a year reports are coming out on some new violation, especially in college football and basketball.

So, now that what cheating in sports has been established, the question as to why cheaters feel the need to cheat arises. What is it that motivates athletes and coaches to cheat knowing the embarrassment and punishment that may come if they are found out? For individuals, such as players and coaches, the sports world is a rough one. If they don’t produce, they may soon find themselves on the bench or out of a job. Because of how competitive and cutthroat the business is, coaches feel like they have to win in order to keep their job, so they may try and spill some soda on the court for an impromptu timeout after they have run out. Baseball players feel like they might be released or benched if they don’t hit a couple homeruns a week or strikeout seven batters every time they start. This fear of being out of a job is what drives players to take steroids in order to better themselves and gain an edge. In fact, 98% of elite athletes said that they would take a performance-enhancing substance if they were guaranteed two things: winning and not being caught. 60% said they would still do so even if it meant dying from side effects.

Some entire sports have such a strong background of cheating that athletes might feel like they are being left behind if they don’t cheat as well. Lance Armstrong, the seven time Tour de France champion cyclist who was recently found to be blood doping during his run, described the Tour de France as “Impossible to win without doping.” He felt that blood doping was so widespread back in his era of cycling that a cyclist would not be able to compete without blood doping as well. For example, when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles, one year was not handed down to the next person in line, due to the next 20+ finishers all having tested positive for PEDs. Additionally, 14 of the 25 most recent winners have all tested positive for PED usage. 

The same can be said about baseball’s Steroid Era. Mark McGwire, one of the most prominent homerun hitters during the Steroid Era, said “"Everybody I know in the game of baseball uses the same stuff I use." This was back in 1998, in the middle of the Steroid Era. The 1998 season was the season that McGwire finished with 70 homeruns, which was a record at the time. It was also the first time in major league history that four players finished the year with 50 or more homeruns, including Sammy Sosa who hit 66 which would have been the record if not for McGwire’s monster season. Both of them reportedly tested positive for steroid usage, with McGwire admitting it years later. Performance- enhancing drugs are so commonly used that some wonder if the athlete should still be criticized or if accomplishments should be looked down on due to use. Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run hitter, may never find a spot in the hall of fame due to his steroid usage, despite being the one of the best baseball players of all time. Other greats, such as Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, McGuire, Sosa and many others may never get into the hall, despite much of the PED use by these players coming before the new rules concerning PEDs were established in the 2006 collective bargaining agreement. Both cycling and baseball have since made efforts to try and clean up their sport and get rid of the use of PED usage, but still have that stigma attached to them.

For many athletes, even after the fact it is well worth it to have cheated and experienced the gains from it only to be found out later. With Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins came fame and notoriety worldwide. With this newfound influence, he started the Livestrong foundation to help and support those with cancer and their families. Additionally, even now after the truth about his doping has surfaced and years removed from his cycling days, he still has a net worth of $125 million. This kind of influence and money would have been much harder to come by without his wins in those seven Tour de France races, which he would have not have won without cheating. That 1998 season was one of the most exciting seasons in years for baseball and helped to revitalize a sport that was slowly but surely growing less and less popular due to its slow pace. Even though the excitement of the homerun race was fueled by steroid users, it was this homerun race that gave baseball this much needed boost.

Teams that cheat can also see the short term benefits of cheating outweigh the long term consequences that come from them. A good example is USC and the whole Reggie Bush saga. Reggie Bush was a dynamic college player for the Trojans and he helped to lead them to two straight BCS National Championship appearances and one championship. Unfortunately for him and the program, it was found out later that he was receiving impermissible benefits while at USC which made him ineligible to play in any games. As part of the punishment for this, USC went on probation, had a loss of scholarships, and had to vacate all of its wins that Reggie Bush took a part in, including the 2005 National Championship game. However, this does not undo the effect that these seasons and that Bush had on the program. Winning a national championship and being a dominant team for multiple years brings a large amount of extra revenue into a program. Sales for USC merchandise in the mid-2000s skyrocketed and the success of the team created many new USC fans around the nation. While the punishment that USC faced afterwards was severe and has crippled them for the past few seasons, it could be argued that the revenue and the prominence that they gained during the years of the offenses are worth more to them than what they might miss out on during the seasons where they are on probation.

Cheating isn’t just seen in professional and college sports, and has been a problem in high school and youth sports for quite some time. There have been some notable accounts of cheating, making headlines and grabbing news attention across the nation. One famous account of cheating in youth sports was the story of Danny Almonte, a 14 year old baseball player who lied about his age to compete in the Little League World Series. When discovered, his team’s 3rd place finish was nullified and his father was faced with criminal charges for falsifying birth records. Lying about age for athletics is not a new practice and has been done in a variety of different sports, including in the olympics. Furthermore, people traditionally think performance-enhancing drugs are only used in the professional sport setting, however this is not the case. Recent research has revealed that young girls (as early as 9 years old) have begun to use bodybuilding steroids to get the same toned, sculpted look of models and movie stars. About 5% of high school girls admit to using some sort of steroid, and use of the drug has steadily risen since 1991.

Sports are extremely competitive at the highest level, and spots are limited. Because of this, people all over the sports industry need to gain every advantage that they possibly can. Some of these people feel like they may need to go outside the rule books to gain these advantages, even knowing that they may face harsh punishments afterwards. However, these punishments pale in comparison when put next to some of the benefits attained from the advantages of cheating. Because of this, cheating will probably never be completely eradicated from the sports world.




 or create an account to join the discussion on Jurnid

More stories by Mark Y.