Are you a cheater?
Let’s rephrase that: Would you be — or are you — willing to bend the rules to your crooked advantage if it meant for you more money, higher position, greater praise and power, fame and acclaim? If it meant … winning?
If you would, you’ve got company. A lot of it.
Especially in the world of sports, but probably in most other worlds, too.
When it became known that trainer Bob Baffert’s horse Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance after winning the Kentucky Derby, and that the rewards for finishing first in that esteemed race could be taken away, the whole cheating thing rocketed to the top of sports consciousness … again.
For about the millionth time.
Has it ever left?
And when Baffert initially acted, as he has in the past when his horses have failed tests, as though he was being set up, wronged, conspired against, because he knew nothing of and had no part in such indiscretion, it put observers of sports in the awkward position to which they’ve become so accustomed — trying to find peace somewhere between guilt and innocence.
Baffert proclaimed his innocence.
Eight billion other people rolled their eyes.
Baffert has since announced that Medina Spirit in the run-up to the Derby had been treated with an antifungal ointment that contained the banned steroid found in the test, although before that announcement he had said the horse had never been treated with it. He said the substance gave his horse no advantage.
This marked the fifth medication violation in the past 13 months for Baffert.
The excuse-making in this case reached epic proportions earlier when it was hung out there that a stable worker who had been taking cough medicine may have relieved himself on the hay or feed or whatever in Medina Spirit’s stall and that the horse could have ingested the medication and thereby triggered post-race alarms.
The other eight billion may not have heard that one before, but they have heard darn near every other tall tale when it comes to cheating in sports, and, as mentioned, there’s been so much of it, from the Astros banging trashcan lids to signal stolen signs in baseball or Lance Armstrong insisting for years that he was completely innocent of enhancing his performance as he dominated cycling and its crowning event — the Tour de France — or Tom Brady deflating footballs or a slew of college basketball coaches using illegal means to gain the services of star recruits.
Sports has taken us to the place where when anything remarkable happens on the field, on the court, on the diamond, on the track, on the turf, on the ice, we have to wonder whether it was clean.
And that sucks.
I once asked a university professor who studies such things about athletes who take performance-enhancers getting busted, he said he’s not shocked that they participate in such endeavors, he’s shocked when they get caught. Such is the high technology at hand these days. Actually, it’s been that way for a long time now.
Anybody out there not think horse racing is compromised on the reg?
Anybody out there not suspicious regarding which athletes got huge bennies when a college basketball team cuts down the nets at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament, all as the head coach is honored?
Anybody out there not wonder when a home run record is threatened, when a time on the track is obliterated, when 10 plates of heavy metal are lifted? When records are broken or greatness is celebrated?
Some say the problem with widespread cheating comes from athletes/coaches/trainers/administrators with ego-oriented goals as opposed to task-oriented goals. What’s troubling there is that ego affects most athletes.
They want to win.
And they’re willing to do whatever they can to make it happen.
Society loves winners — and pays them handsomely.
Folks who finish second? Not so much.
In the minds of many, then, the rewards of cheating are worth it, even if they eventually get caught. They can deny all the day long, can form their own truth, can make their own excuses, as they enjoy the fruits of the urine-soaked hay already in their barns.
Will it ever change?
Does it bother us? Would we do the same, if we could? How do we handle our own business, when winning is at stake?
It’s always at stake, in everything, and that’s why every Astro, every Lance, every Tom, every Bob exists — because winning too often is the thing. Not everything, the only thing.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 975 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.