Why some athletes cheat

Cheating is not new to sports. Athletes are coached to do whatever it takes to win. So why do some athletes cheat?

Deflategate has rekindled the cheating conversation. Did the New England Patriots knowingly reduce the pressure in their footballs for a competitive advantage over Indianapolis? There’s been plenty of speculation, but nothing definitive yet. The investigation continues.

Belichick, the Patriots head coach, is infamously known for pushing the envelope to help gain an edge. In 2007 Spygate occurred where he was caught bending the rules by secretly taping the New York Jets defensive coaches.

Tom Brady, New England’s Quarterback, claims he didn’t alter the footballs. That is a plausible statement. Although he may not have handled the footballs prior to the game, he could still be involved.

Brady’s devoted thousands of hours to gripping and throwing footballs. He knows what a football feels like in his hands. His muscle memory should have kicked in to sense the equipment feels slightly different.

Speaking out

Now an entirely different question is if he knew something was wrong but he didn’t say anything. This is known as lying by omission. In this situation knowledge without telling is considered equally guilty.

Whistle blowing is another consideration. There’s pressure to “turn a blind eye” although you’re aware of cheating. Speaking out to expose wrongdoing can potentially isolate you from the team. To avoid the backlash, athletes may choose to remain silent.

Team culture affects whether athletes cheat or not.

  1. Compassion or commodity. The business of sports turns athletes into a commodity. The machine is more important than the needs of any individual athlete.
  2. Hierarchy. Owners and head coaches set the tone for the team. Similar to the military, most teams are a top down hierarchy. Belichick has established a team culture where bending, without breaking, the rules is acceptable.
  3. Emphasis. Athletes cave into the pressure to cheat when scores, times and winning have greater importance than effort and performance.
  4. Accountability.  Here’s where size matters. The more people involved reduces likelihood that any one individual will step up to speak out. Larger numbers reduces the sense of any one individual taking personal responsibility.
  5. Tired. Athletes experience burn out by season’s end.  Although they’re tired, they still need to maintain peak performance.

 What coaches can do:

  1. Model high standards of integrity. Would your coach pass the John Wooden test?
  2. Emphasize effort instead of numbers. Athletes can control their efforts, but not the numbers.
  3. Reward effort and mastery instead of stats.
  4. Encourage personal responsibility.

The business of sports

Is sports integrity possible when money, contracts and endorsements are on the line? Consider the business of sports which is linked directly to winning. These athletes are under an enormous pressure.

It’s survival of the fittest where athletes either win or perish. Not performing to expectations may lead to a trade or early retirement. Athletes cheat when the the risk of losing overrides their personal values and integrity.

Exempt from the rules

Sometimes it seems like the rules don’t apply to professional athletes. They’ve grown accustomed to red carpet treatment. Their perceived power can easily go to their head; believing that they’ll never get caught.

Athletes cheat for a variety of reasons.

  1. Power. Believe they won’t get caught.
  2. Pressure. These athletes cave into the pressure instead of taking a stand and saying “no.”
  3. Primary fear. Disappointment and failure are two primary fears that athletes experience.
  4. Playing fair. There’s a desire for a level playing field. Athletes who are convinced that everyone else is cheating will justify their actions.
  5. Permission. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

The reason doesn’t make it right. No matter what reason or circumstances are involved, cheating athletes made the decision to cheat. Thinking errors helped to justify their actions.

Cheating without guilt

Deflate Gate rekindled the discussion on why athletes cheat. Photo by Keith Allison

Deflategate rekindled the discussion on why athletes cheat.
Photo by Keith Allison

Can cheating athletes live with themselves afterward? Plenty of them do. Studies show that many cheaters don’t feel guilty about what they’ve done. Actually, research reveals the total opposite. Cheaters feel better about themselves for cheating without getting caught.

The Patriots could have avoided this entire scandal. The final score of 45-7 is proof that the Patriots were able to win against the Colts on their own merit.

Cheating athletes pay a price

There’s a price to pay for cheating athletes. The first time you cross the line to cheat is the most difficult. Cheating usually starts off small, but potentially escalates. Compromising your ethics becomes easier with time.

The best way to avoid this problem is to not even consider cheating as an option. You may have to work harder for your achievements, but you’ll possess a clear conscience. Athletes cheat for a variety of reasons. No reason, however, is acceptable.

Challenge: Where are you cutting corners or seeking shortcuts for an edge? What are the consequences, whether or not you’re caught?

Blaming other athletes, or the circumstances of your sport, is an excuse. Take the high road to correct the problem. It’s up to you to take responsibility for your actions.


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