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Similarities and commonalities within and among politics and sports have been noted before, but that concordance has seldom been more in evidence than in the midst of a heated presidential campaign in which classified information is used for political advantage.

Sports are at the center of our society and that goes for many other societies around the globe. It is truly a wide world of sports and competitive sports are increasingly becoming international. Look at the NBA or Major League Baseball with rosters laden with foreign players. Consider the worldwide grief over the death of Kobe Bryant.

Of course, there is a long history of sports-related feuds. Russian deceit and deception constitute an important chapter, though they are hardly the only example -- witness the recent controversy between China and the NBA where politics and sports collided. Nationalism ("U.S.A, "U.S.A") often comes into play, though the United States is sometimes slow to understand the blend of sports and nationalism in other countries.

It is the matter of cheating that poses a challenge to fair competition. Performance-enhancing drugs have stirred controversy over "doping" for many years. One of the most significant examples involved American cyclist Lance Armstrong who did much to promote an under-appreciated sport -- only to let down those who admired and supported him. And remember the controversy about Chinese gymnasts in the 2008 Olympics. Many thought the girls were well under the required minimum age, even though Chinese officials insisted otherwise.

In addition to drugs and other means of gaining a sports advantage, such as in the "Spy Gate" and "Deflate Gate" controversies involving the NFL's New England Patriots, cheating can take many forms. In politics, it can include perpetrating false or misleading information, leaks (often intended to gain political advantage), cover-ups, rigged elections, hacking, conspiracy theories, or the abuse of electoral processes for personal or political gain.

Accusations of cheating are a major factor in current-day politics, including the presidential campaign, where the Trump campaign has been mired in ongoing controversy about documents shielded from public or media view. As part of the Democratic case against President Trump, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, argued Trump "tried to cheat," adding, "He got caught. And then he worked hard to cover it up." Among numerous other direct or indirect charges of cheating in the impeachment proceedings, Jerome Nadler, Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said, "No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections." The Trump campaign has regularly called such charges "a hoax."

Hiding or distorting the truth is certainly a species of cheating. As Washington Post columnist David Ignatius points out, the FBI abused powers by using surveillance of Trump adviser Carter Page -- abusing power to investigate abuse of power.

Many, even most, of our big-time sports have been tarnished, just as many of our major political campaigns have oftne been conducted in the gutter. That diminishes public confidence in and respect for our institutions -- and for many of those involved in politics and public affairs. The Watergate break-in was a clear case of cheating, if somewhat amateurish and part of a Nixon "dirty-tricks" operation.

That brings us to baseball, which for some of us represents and incorporates important virtues of a serious work ethic and values of fair play and teamwork. For all that, baseball is not without a history of cheating or scheming. Long ago baseball had its "Black Sox" scandal, involving the fixing of World Series games. There was the home-run power surge of the late 1990s, fueled by steroids, "andro," and other supplements. The latest and some say the largest baseball scandal involves stealing signals from opposing teams. There is a long history of attempted sign stealing, even involving the historic 1951 National League playoff.

Now we have the Houston Astros, one of baseball's most successful teams in recent years, apparently illegally using a center-field camera to steal signs and relay them in real time to Houston batters. Banging on a trash can near the Astros dugout was the way batters were tipped off. This subterfuge could certainly have affected the outcome of games, including the 2017 World Series, when the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, and have all sorts of ramifications. Three managers and one general manager have already been fired and much more fallout is expected.

Pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a former Arkansas Razorback, became the first player from the 2017 Astros, to apologize for the illegal practice, which enabled opposition batters to know what kind of pitch they could expect.

Cheating eats away not only at the core fundamental standards and principles of our society. To diminish cheating, it is essential that citizens and consumers have access to information that is vital and accurate in a free society. And here the media have an important role.

We need cheat detectors, fact checks and serious regulatory agencies to guard against cheating and to promote higher standards of conduct in sports and politics.

We need to put some life into the old playground proclamation: Cheaters never win and winners never cheat.

Commentary on 02/05/2020

Print Headline: Cheating not uncommon in sport, political worlds

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