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Peter Riva

View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with me and you, our readers.

Cheating to Win, Is It Immoral?

by Peter Riva - Oct. 30, 2012

Cheating is defined as an immoral way of achieving a goal. What does immoral mean? It means not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established by society. So, it can be said that anything illegal, in the law and justice sense of that word, could be immoral. And more than that, society has whole reams of immorality clauses that are not necessarily illegal but can be binding on participants.

We go to the movies that have ratings. These are societal standards that we break only if we’re being immoral. Take your child into an adult rated film and you are breaking – or refusing to go along with - society’s pattern of acceptable conduct. Go topless at the beach may not be against the law in New York State (I don’t think it is) but you are surely breaking one moral code or another. Let your child skip school, play truant, and you are breaking the law and society’s moral code.

Let’s look at this another way. If the goal in life is to succeed at something you enjoy or are good at, what prevents you from acquiring those goals at any cost? Morality dictates you should not cheat. You should not, for example, take steroids to build muscle for the football team try-outs. Who says so? Well, the law for one says that minors must not be able to buy such drugs. Adults can. The law does not say a young athlete may not use them or need to take them (for rehab after an injury for example, or cancer). The rules of the game say it is forbidden. The morals laid down by society, written up as game rules and regulations, say so. These are not societal laws, these are rules made up by players and administrators of the games in question. They have no basis in law, they are voluntary laws, game morals. You want to play in their game? You must abide by their rules. That’s the trade-off. The problem comes when the rules don’t cover every example, when the rules stray into the arena of medical needs, or when these private rules are misinterpreted as societal morals and values.

Drugs, hard drugs like heroin, are illegal. Not just a rule it is the law. But the whole world celebrates people who used heroin and worse drugs to make some of the finest music. Wagner, The Beatles, the Stones, Mozart... all these are known to have used mind altering drug products which are against the law. Is this cheating? Surely, by the moral definition, it is. So why not burn all the Beatles’ records and remove all their chart-topping records, destroy their Platinum record trophies, besmirch their name?

And let’s not forget Babe Ruth. How much beer and steak did he consume daily? Did this not give him an unfair advantage over a player from Kansas struggling in the Depression to eat a sandwich a day? They say an Army marches on its stomach. We feed our soldiers very well, a whole lot better than a handful of rice twice a day that the Viet Cong got. Were we cheating? Were we immoral? And that snowboarder from the last Olympics who had an $8 million private snow pipe built for training for him – and only him – by Red Bull as sponsor. Was he a cheat? He did gain an unfair advantage; unfair because $8 million does not grow on trees for everyone.

And so we come to Lance Armstrong. Here is a decent American athlete, who suffered testicular cancer twice, who trained every day since he was a kid, who entered into a professional sport where “doping” was normal. What “doping”? Steroid enhancements, blood transfusions, altitude training at expensive camps, 24 hour medical help, scientists developing his special diet, blood testing every week, devices to aid training that cost millions. The whole cycling world was involved. Think I’m joking? The Tour de France has removed his 7 wins from the books, but they have not been able to give the wins to anyone else. Why? Because, if he did use drugs (which is not legally proven) he sure as hell wasn’t the only one. The 1st through 20th were sure to have done the same. At some point the word “cheating” falls apart like the fake label it really is.

When I was a kid, people on the street used to say Roger Maris was a cheat because he had 60+ games to break Babe Ruth’s record. We knew that was wrong because baseball had changed, the starting pitcher didn’t have to stay in all 9 innings, and most of the Babe’s homers were in the later innings when the old-time pitchers got tired. Roger was the real deal... on the other hand, he did have a good salary and that allowed him more good food and training than other players in other leagues. Was that immoral or cheating?

Society has a right to decide what’s cheating and what is not. But by making flimflam rules in private enterprise like sports and calling breaking of those ambiguous rules “cheating” or “immoral” is the pot calling the kettle black. The day organized sports looks at itself and stops football athletes from weighing 300+ pounds (no drug testing there), or when $150,000 tennis rackets are banned from Wimbledon, or when the booze and partying commissioners of the so-called college bowls stop setting a horrible example of personal excess and greed, the whole notion of cheating in sports is a joke.

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