What we can learn from the baseball cheating scandal

Sport, at its best, is a co-operative activity in which competitors on both sides play with honour in a mutual quest for excellence

Ken ReedThe Houston Astros have a strange way of saying they’re sorry for cheating and tainting the game of baseball, including the World Series.

Last week, the Astros staged what was supposed to be an apology press conference for using an elaborate high-tech scheme (well, except the banging on the trash cans part) to illegally steal signs the last couple seasons. Stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman gave lukewarm apologies for cheating the game and its fans.

And then Astros owner Jim Crane stepped to the mike.

“Our opinion is, this didn’t impact the game,” Crane told reporters. “We had a good team, we won the World Series. We’ll leave it at that.”

We’ll leave it at that?

“What an amazing opinion,” tweeted sports reporter Ian Rapoport. “This is like the people who say taking steroids to get bigger, faster and stronger don’t cause more HRs. If it doesn’t help, why are you cheating?”

In addition to making the Major League Baseball scandal worse, Crane provided a new defence for high school students who get caught cheating on their tests.

Student to school principal: “My opinion is my cheating on this test didn’t impact my score. I’m really a good student. I would’ve aced this test anyway. I’ll leave it at that.”

“It’s sad for baseball. It’s tough. They cheated,” said Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout, who’s usually very mild-mannered and non-controversial. “It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected. A lot of people lost jobs.”

Former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger filed a civil lawsuit last week against the Astros. In the suit, he accuses the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations.

A journeyman pitcher, Bolsinger was sent to the minors, never to return, after a game in which Bolsinger gave up four runs on four hits and three walks in a third of an inning against the Astros on Aug. 4, 2017. That game has been cited as one of the ones that the Astros used their cheating scam most extensively.

Bolsinger is suing for unspecified damages but part of his suit calls for the Astros to forfeit approximately $31 million in bonuses from their tainted World Series title. He wants the money to go to charities, including those seeking to better kids’ lives.

“There’s a message to be sent to youth out there. Especially athletes, more specifically baseball players,” Bolsinger told USA TODAY. “It was awesome to (grow up and) watch the game played the right way. We’ve kind of drifted from that. It’s something we can really express to these kids: You don’t have to cheat to get to where you want to go. This kind of stuff doesn’t need to happen.”

He’s right. It certainly doesn’t need to happen. In fact, learning to play fair and sportsmanship are often cited as key reasons for the huge investment in competitive youth sports in the United States. Given what we’ve witnessed in Major League Baseball, those values need to be re-emphasized from the Little League level through the high school level.

What the Astros exhibited is a classic win-at-all-costs mindset.

How you play the game is the most important thing in sports – above and beyond all team and individual accomplishments and awards.

Sport, at its best, is a co-operative activity in which competitors on both sides play with honour in a mutual quest for excellence. As such, our opponents are also our colleagues. We compete with our opponents, not against them.

Sportsmanship is soul-based. It’s the spiritual aspect of sports. And it’s the polar opposite of the ego-and-greed-based win-at-all-costs mentality that’s becoming too prevalent in sports today. The Astros are the latest case study of this mentality.

Sport should be about respect, honour and relationships. Basketball great Steve Nash once said he wanted to be remembered as a great teammate and someone who played the game the right way. Altuve and Bregman will forever be remembered as cheaters, like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the 1919 Black Sox.

Hopefully, with the help of people like Bolsinger, and millions of youth sports parents and coaches around the country, the Houston Astros scandal can be used as a great teaching tool for learning the importance of sportsmanship.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.

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