Your Cheating Heart

Pols are honest compared to athletes

By R.E. Graswich
December 2021

It’s getting tough to hold an election without someone claiming the results are rigged or crooked or somehow fixed. But there’s an easy way for Sacramento citizens to tell whether elections are less than honest. Keep an eye on the athletes.

In our modern culture, no collection of humans knows more about cheating than athletes. Name a sport and you’ll find a cheater.

If county and state election officials start to hire athletes—or former athletes or coaches or trainers—and put them anywhere near the polling, counting and certification process, look out. Where athletes go, cheating follows.

I’m not saying all athletes are cheaters. They aren’t. Many take pride in their ability to train hard and succeed on merit and talent and sweat. But plenty of athletes believe they can’t succeed without cheating—if only because their opponents gain advantages by cheating. Once cheating starts, it spreads like a virus. People cheat to stay competitive.

Paradoxically, the best athletes are often the best cheaters. They know how to get away with it. Even the most upstanding athlete can get trapped in the vortex.

People cheat at golf, ignoring the game’s tradition of self-incrimination. Tennis, which evolved as a leisure activity for ladies and gentlemen, is filled with cheaters. Here’s one example: Tennis players are not supposed to receive advice from coaches during matches (women get one tutorial per set). The rules dissolve in a flash of elaborately choreographed coaching signals from the sidelines at every tournament.

Cheating covers the full spectrum. A high school football player who injects steroids to enhance his weight-lifting regimen is a cheater. So is the NBA player who grabs an opponent’s jersey or flops without contact. Steroids, grabbing and diving have one common denominator: They are against the rules.

Sometimes, cheating is impossible to detect without a confession. A racehorse trainer who uses Lasix water pills to control bleeding in a filly’s lungs is playing by the rules. But if the medicine is dispensed merely to help the horse urinate more and run faster or mask other drugs or hide an injury, the trainer is cheating.

Some sports are worse than others. If strength and endurance are keys to success, it’s inevitable that athletes will cheat, typically with performance-enhancing drugs. Cyclists have a terrible reputation for cheating. They worked hard to earn it.

The world’s premier cycling event—the Tour de France—has been a laboratory for cheats since it began in 1903. Early cheaters took trains and cars, skipping long sections of the racecourse. Riders poisoned foes by spiking their drinks. To propel long climbs through the Alps, cyclists relied on cocaine, chloroform and morphine. Into the 1950s, Tour officials approved of doping as long as riders carried their own drugs.

Lance Armstrong is the king of bicycle dopers, but even the king must salute Femke Van den Driessche, a successful cyclo-cross cyclist whose performance in the 2016 World Championships was assisted by a motor concealed in her bike.

Cheating isn’t a matter of a few rotten apples. Entire teams cheat—let’s never forgive the Houston Astros for stealing signals en route to the 2017 World Series title. Coaches are co-conspirators. Athletes whose bodies and performances are enhanced by drugs are easy to recognize by coaches. Pitchers who doctor baseballs are obvious. Everyone plays dumb, even high school coaches.

I’ve been writing about sports for 50 years, and have found just one group of athletes who try hard not to cheat. These are rugby players. From the start, rugby established a culture of fortitude and toughness with no tolerance for excuses. Cheating is always a sign of weakness, so rugby players do their best to avoid it.

Which doesn’t mean rugby players are immune from cheating. They are especially clever about violating the offside law. But compared to everything else, rugby is an honest game. If you get a chance this winter, please check out Sacramento State, UC Davis or local high school rugby teams. It’s quite a game.

Politicians are rarely seen as paragons of honesty and integrity. But they are saints compared to many athletes, at least when it comes to cheating their way to victory. If an Olympic star ever becomes responsible for Sacramento County elections or gets sworn in as California secretary of state, demand a recount.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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