This blog entry was supposed to be about censorship.
All throughout December and into the new year, I was brainstorming a perspective on censorship that would be both powerful and original. I kept putting it off, not really knowing why.
And then Charlie Hebdo happened.
And with that event, so many posts about censorship popped up that I felt like my voice would be drowned out in the crowd. I also worried that I might, by accident, say something insensitive to those whose lost their lives in defense of free speech (but before you point it out: yes, I am aware of the irony in postponing an article about censorship in order to protect people’s sensibilities).
Furthermore, the whole horrifying story of what happened in France has forced me to take a look at my own viewpoint on the subject. I now fear that my understanding is incomplete. I feel that I must forebear, not because I want to silence an opinion, but because I am not emotionally ready to publish my feelings on the subject. It will be on the blog sometime in the future. But, for now, I need to step back and sort myself out.
So it’s a good thing that I am ready to talk about another subject—one that is almost as controversial as censorship. It’s not related to writing, but it sure is worth writing about.
I am, of course, talking about cheating in sports.
“If eating you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
The New England Patriots and Their Limp Balls
The subject of sports cheating was recently thrown into the spotlight by a group of concerned citizens, by which I of course mean every team that the New England Patriots have beaten this season. Now, every one of these teams had, during gameplay, personally handled the Patriots’ balls. The balls were not as firm as they should be, claimed the opposing teams. They felt smaller and softer than what should be expected from a league football team.
This is against the rules. The NFL, out of concern for fair play, inspects the balls of every one of its teams to make sure they are firm and bloated and ready to be played with. And it is common knowledge, apparently, that deflated balls are no fun at all, for they give a distinct advantage to those teams that have them, and make the other teams feel inadequate.
The matter is being investigated. The evidence is pretty damning. The guilt is almost certain.
So, what justice is to be dealt to the New England Patriots? Expulsion from the League? Forfeiture of the Super Bowl? A long list of lost draft picks? (Try saying that three times fast).
Granted, the decision has yet to come down, and I may yet be surprised, but, at the moment, it appears as if the final punishment will be…a small fine.
Small is relative. It’s a bigger fee than most individual fans would be able to afford, but in a multi-billion dollar industry, such is little more than chump change.
Is this a sad thing? Perhaps. But it is not unexpected. Not when the professional sports world is full of people like this guy:
And this guy:
And this guy:
That’s Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Lance Armstrong, for those of you who can’t recognize disgraced celebrities by appearance alone.
And the last example is probably the most interesting of all. Once it was discovered that Mr. Armstrong had cheated, his Tour de France victories were revoked. But doing so had been a difficult decision, seeing as how, in one such Tour, the five runners up were also caught cheating, thus making it impossible to name a clear-cut winner. Without cheating, it is literally impossible to win the world’s most prestigious bike race.
Let’s Stop Kidding Ourselves
Seriously, let’s stop kidding ourselves. Cheating is no longer a plague upon the industry; it is the industry. Professional sports is the method by which great feats of cheating are distributed to the eyes of the masses. And it doesn’t matter how many new rules you impose. It doesn’t matter how closely you enforce the rules, either, as your inspectors and referees are all too often part of the corruption inherent in the system.
Aren’t you fed up with it all? Don’t we all have better things to do than trying to fix the system, particularly when that system is designed to stonewall any real change? Is there any reason to keep pretending that it will one day get better?
Well, I’ve come to the same conclusion. So, for the good of the world, I am going to be “that guy” and propose the only realistic solution.
A Modest Proposal
Here’s my proposition: let’s make all of it okay.
You heard me. Let’s make sports cheating completely legal and acceptable to society. Forever.
It’s the next logical step in the evolution of professional sports. The cheating is already happening. The only thing missing is transparency.
Think about it. Here we are, discussing the “shocking” revelations surrounding the New England Patriots. And we’re not the only ones. Every news outlet is obsessing over the story. They are putting stories about the wars in the Middle East on the back burner for this. They are even taking time off from screaming at each other over politics so that they can cover the Patriots’ scandal. What a waste.
If cheating had already been legal, then this story would be insignificant. Your ears would not be wearied with shocking updates for there would be none. And all other newsworthy events, whether it be bake sales or stock movements or wars across the globe, would have greater access to the attention of the public.
You should also consider all the money that goes into professional sports. Money that would be better spent on literally anything. If people know the game is rigged, they will stop paying to watch it.
Though I could be wrong. Professional wrestling would be the perfect counterexample.
And is it so bad to know that your sports idols are cheating, as long as their opponents are allowed the same courtesy? Let’s use Lance Armstrong as an example. He used performance enhancing drugs, and the other competitors did the same. The playing field was, for all intents and purposes, level. So who cares if he uses steroids to increase his performance, or if he even hops on a jet and simply flies to the finish line. It simply changes the format of the competition from “Who has the fastest bike?” to “Who has the fastest jet?” By legalizing cheating, you have made the competition more fair, and reduced a days-long bike race to something that can be watched in the course of an afternoon, saving precious time for everyone involved.
Your Objections Are Meaningless
Now, I know you are already thinking up counterarguments to my claims. In fact, I already know what those counterarguments are. So now I will discredit them, one by one, to save you the trouble of trying to defend the indefensible.
1. Legalizing Cheating will Make Sports Unfair
Oh yes, there is our societal delusion about the Sanctity of Sport. The thrill of competition. The supposed character building. The dogma that all sport is a contest of wills, and that it is one’s spirit and determination that leads one to victory. Without fairness, none of this is possible, so we must preserve fairness.
All this ignores the fact that professional sports are, by nature, the least fair of all imaginable institutions. They impose barriers to entry from the moment you are born. It doesn’t matter if you have the will to win, if you’re not a certain height, you never get to play basketball. If you’re not genetically predisposed to speed and strength, you can’t play football. And there are millions of dreamers out there, who train night an day for a job they can never obtain. When famous players give speeches, they often magnanimously speak about how everything in the game depends on hard work—how persistence and training are more important than natural talent. Nevertheless, if your body is not shaped a certain way, you will never be a professional player. How is that fair?
And if sports are already 100% unfair, how could you ruin the fairness of the game by legalizing cheating?
2. Legalizing Cheating Sets a Bad Example to our Young People
Okay, let’s talk about this.
Sports stars are role models. People look up to them. People want to be like them. In short, people envy them, so we must impose rules on them that do not apply to people who aren’t sports stars.
So let’s play a game. Imagine you are a young man in college who plays football. Let’s say you play the game exceptionally well, so much so that you attract the attention of the NFL. And, since we’re already making wishes here, let’s suppose that you become a coveted draft pick and get picked up by one of the best teams in the nation (it doesn’t have to be the Patriots; not everything has to be about the Patriots).
So the night before you start, you are lying in your bed, enraptured by the thought of your future. You visualize piles of money, the adoration of fans, and the opportunity to work with your idols. You also dream about the women you’ll have relationships with, the fun you will have as a rich celebrity, and the enjoyment of earning a living while playing one of your favorite games.
The night passes quickly, and you are up before dawn, ready to report to your first day of training. You arrive at the training field, and the coach approaches you and says, “Listen up: I know we told you that you’re going to be a pro football player, but, instead, we’re going to make you a priest. We will be paying you to live a chaste and virtuous life, and your every action must be a sermon to the people, to show them the right way to act. So you’d better be careful, because all of this money and fame we’re going to give you have some heavy strings attached.” That’s quite the fine print, is it not?
Yes, sports stars are role models. And why is that? There is no reason. Sports stars are role models because society decided, on a whim, that they were. The same society does not require that hedge fund managers or neurosurgeons or software engineers be role models, despite the fact that those are highly-paid (and occasionally fame-bringing) occupations. And if society tried to make these people role models, you would wonder when the world had turned upside down.
So I ask: do you really want your sports idols to be your spiritual leaders? Do you want Derek Jeter to call you into his office to talk about how you could be a better father? Do you want Muhammad Ali to judge your moral character and tell you where your shortcomings are? Do you want Venus Williams to lecture you about charitable giving and urge you to make more of a commitment? Do you want to grant moral authority to men and women just because they are celebrities? Of course you don’t. So stop demanding that they fill such a role.
3. Legalizing Cheating Diminishes the Quest for Greater Human Achievement
A hundred years ago, this argument would have had some legitimacy. We participate in sports to test the limits of the human body. We participate in sports to make ourselves stronger, to prepare for the hardships of war and/or toiling in the fields. We participate in sports to train our bodies for the great physical feats that are necessary to live in the 19th century.
Here’s a fact: human beings have, through technology, broken the sound barrier. The human body will never go that fast under its own power. We can push the limits of physical human achievement all we want. Competitors on the track may continue to break records for years, or maybe centuries, to come. Once we finally hit the glass ceiling, we will answer the question of just how fast a man can run. And that answer will satisfy our curiosity. But it will have no practical application, because we’ve already invented cars, airplanes, and rocket ships.
Should we train our legs that we might have faster couriers? No, we have email for that.
Should we toughen ourselves up through football in preparation for war. No, melee fighting has been obsolete since the invention of the gun. And the wars of the future will be fought with flying drones and remote-control tanks.
Our crops are harvested by combines. Our buildings are raised by hydraulic cranes. There is no point to discovering the limits of bone and sinew. Those limits are already behind us.
4. Legalizing Cheating will Take the Fun out of Sports
You will notice, after reading this article, that I have not said anything against sports in general. My attacks have been entirely against professional sports. The advent of technology has not eliminated the need for exercise. And having fun in the yard with your family is a good use of your time (though I will point out that cheating happens all the time in friendly competition, as well).
So won’t legalizing cheating take the fun out of professional sports? Well, maybe it will. But are professional sports ever played for fun? No. They are played for money. Taking fun out of something that has nothing to do with fun is not an argument.
And it can’t work. Even if it was possible—even if you could convince every player in every league to stop cheating, do you honestly believe that would change the nature of the game, turning it from a many-billion-dollar industry to something that is played for enjoyment? That’s not going to work. In fact the only way to do such a thing…the only way to make all sports fair and fun…the only way to do that…
Why, you’d have to stop paying people money to play sports.
Thank you for reading this terribly long blog post. I love you all, and hope to be of some use to you. You keep me alive, and I am grateful.
[This week’s tagline: “Where the elite come to get their comeuppance.”]
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