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A Second Chance for Cheating: Only in Sports

The realities of professional sports don’t even come close to the realities of reality. Really.

Melky Cabrera, who up until this past season was a marginal player at best, got caught — and admitted to — taking steroids. He was served up a 50-game suspension and was kept off the World Series champion San Francisco Giants post-season roster. Cabrera went so far as to create a fake website to try to convince people that instead of taking steroids on purpose, he bought this magic cream off the Internet and that’s what showed up in his drug test. He made $6 million last year. You’d think his career, let alone his reputation would be over. But this is baseball, and anything can happen in baseball.

The Toronto Blue Jays, days after negotiating a star-studded deal in which they all of a sudden become a contender in the A.L. East, signed Cabrera to a two-year contract at $16 million. Instead of being a forgotten name in baseball, Cabrera was awarded a second chance at $8 million per season.

Second chances are necessary in life; we all make boneheaded mistakes. But why do we give such leniency in sport? What makes sports more valuable to our society than other professions? If you got caught cheating and/or lying and/or making stuff up at your workplace, would you be rewarded with a second chance — and make more money from someone willing to hire you? I think we all know the answer to that.

Let’s say I decided to lift a whole passage from another writer into one of my articles and got caught, what do you think would happen to me? First, I’d get fired. Then, I’d have people scouring the Web looking for content that I stole and called my own. And I wish me luck finding a journalism job after all this, because that’s not going to happen.

Better writers — and famous ones, to boot — have been caught plagiarizing and have had their journalism/writing careers ended. They got caught trying to enhance their performance. While it’s not injecting hormones in their bodies to write better, they used a little nudge from someone else to make their articles better — or just invented things out of thin air.  Jonah Lehrer, Jayson Blair are the poster boys for this. And while others have been caught lifting isolated paragraphs and sentences here and there — Maureen Dowd, Fareed Zakeria — if you’re a journalist and plagiarize, your career is pretty much over.

But not in baseball. You cheat, you get rewarded with a multi-million dollar contract. It would seem the only thing that gets you banned from baseball is an off-the field error: gambling. Baseball’s reality takes weird twists and turns, particularly on the steroid issue. Testifying in front of Congress? Have an investigation headed up by a former Senate Majority Leader? Pretty sure no plagiarizer has had to deal with that. (And clearly, none of the finger pointing and testifying eradicated the use of steroids in baseball.)

From an unstable home environment (as athletes are on the road all the time) to the enormous salaries, most of us can’t fathom what it’s like to be a ball player. Baseball — and other sports — is its own reality, a non-standard way of life where consequences don’t really exist. Must be nice.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


30 thoughts on “A Second Chance for Cheating: Only in Sports

  1. You make a really interesting comparison between what goes on in the sports world and how it pales in comparison to what happens elsewhere. I don’t now if things will ever change though…because of how much emphasis people place on sports, as well as the amount of money that gets invested in it and the athletes themselves. Crazy!!

    Congarts on being FP!

    Posted by Things You Realize After You Get Married | November 20, 2012, 11:10 am
  2. People care far more about their favorite sports teams being good than about any kind of justice. I witnessed this firsthand, this past summer, living in rural Pennsylvania. It was stunning how many people could not admit that Joe Paterno had done anything wrong, and would defend him to the point of physical violence if you suggested otherwise.

    Posted by idiotprufs | November 20, 2012, 11:40 am
  3. You are right that consequences don’t really exist for these players. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all lived like this!

    Posted by segmation | November 20, 2012, 12:08 pm
  4. There’s really a matter of selective enforcement whichever example you use. Joe Biden bowed out of the 1988 presidential race when it was discovered he plagiarized a bunch of stuff in law school. His career wasn’t ended by it…

    Posted by J-Dub | November 20, 2012, 12:32 pm
  5. Loved this! It’s so well written and makes a very poignant point. Well done sir.

    Posted by 1 Story A Week | November 20, 2012, 12:35 pm
  6. Mark Finnerty
    People these days are more interested in their favourite sports team or star performing well then they are about doing the right thing ! This goes for everybody and is why these sports stars live in a world without real consequences !

    Posted by markfin93 | November 20, 2012, 12:38 pm
  7. Sports is grown men playing kids’ games for a living. On some level, we still treat them like little kids: “Awwwww, but look at him! He’s sorry he did it! Give the poor little tyke another chance!”

    I’ve liked and followed some of it; I’m from Philadelphia. It’s almost a genetic requirement. But basically what we’re talking about is ritualized warfare. Same stuff that the Greek city-states used to do to one another, except if your team loses, you don’t have your farm burnt to the ground. (Although your car might be set on fire and overturned.) Psychologically, the whole business of deliberately creating a completely artificial “us vs them” distinction and then excusing crippling, debilitating injury, violent attack, and illegality that would get a “normal” person put in jail just comes along for the ride.

    It’s hard to make sense of it. I LOVE seeing well-played ice hockey. When it’s done well, it’s an elegant, beautiful, almost dancelike activity. Things happen so quickly that it’s almost impossible to keep track of it, and I don’t know how the players manage it. But at bottom, team sports distill and concentrate some of the worst human tendencies: creating artificial differences, tribalism, blindly splitting everything into TWO sides, violence, cheating, dehumanizing the enemy … it’s all there.

    I tend to think that women’s sports are a little better, but probably only because there is much, much less money involved. I think it’s also useful for women because team sports can teach women how to cooperate with and cheer for other women and how to act against another woman without trying to stab her in the back, which as a woman, I can say that a LOT of women don’t seem to be able to do. Nevertheless, if they got paid millions of dollars, we’d see the same excesses there, too.

    Individual sports are similar: often better if only because there’s no fake creation of two sides but instead many people all trying individually, but as Lance Armstrong proved, once there’s money involved there, people will sink as low as they can manage.

    I’m just not sure humans can do the sports thing without sinking to the lowest possible point. As an activity, it really does seem to encourage the basest possible behavior in pursuit of a goal that ultimately creates nothing. What IS a “point” in the end, really?

    Posted by fireandair | November 20, 2012, 12:40 pm
  8. Great post! Very informative, congrats on FP!

    Posted by legendsofyouth | November 20, 2012, 12:54 pm
  9. Only in sports (and high finance and politics ….)

    Posted by TJ Johnston | November 20, 2012, 12:56 pm
    • Sometimes in Hollywood. Sure Roman Polanski drugged and raped a little kid, but dude, “Chinatown” was an awesome movie! Woody Allen is another one. I’m waiting for the reformation of Mel Gibson too, although he’s seems a little too mentally unstable to avoid shooting himself in the foot repeatedly.

      Posted by fireandair | November 20, 2012, 1:22 pm
  10. Well said. Thank you for posting.

    Posted by Created ~ Create.it | November 20, 2012, 1:36 pm
  11. Here’s the difference: Cabrera was hired by a GM who is responsible primarily for wins and losses with all other factors secondary to that imperitive. If integrity was the overriding measure of that GM’s performance then Cabrera would still be sitting home wondering where he went wrong. The writers you mentioned were fired by editors who worked for organizations where the quality and integrity of the editorial product WAS the overriding measure of performance. Hence two very different reactions to cheating on the job.

    Posted by Marty Levine | November 20, 2012, 2:29 pm
  12. not to mention he got a piece of the royalties from our WS Champion Giants!! As a die-hard Giants fan, I was truly disappointed in him. I thought he shouldn’t have gotten a dime from OUR victory (he lost that right to be involved when he cheated). Just like I feel about Bonds, GOOD RIDDANCE! Have fun with that Blue Jays!

    Posted by amiramelody | November 20, 2012, 3:12 pm
  13. I don’t know much about baseball, but I do know football.

    Professional grade athletes are difficult to come by, and they can’t be replaced on a whim if they screw up. Only a tiny percentage of college level players can even advance to the NFL, because most don’t have the physical capability and among those that do, there are those that lack the intellect and/or drive to play the game. A large portion of that tiny percentage can’t even live up to the standards they face in the NFL. So when a star-quality player screws up, on or off the field, he gets extra chances, because he cannot be replaced.

    Case-in-point: Michael Vick.

    Michael Vick committed a heinous crime. He’s now quarterbacking for the Philadelphia Eagles. Why? Because in the NFL, elite quarterbacks win superbowls, and Vick at least has shown the potential to be elite. There are probably not even a hundred or even a score of currently enlisted NFL quarterbacks, backup quarterbacks, or upcoming quarterbacks in college that even have the potential to become elite. So out of 300,000,000+ people in the United States, he belongs to a group of individuals so small that any suitable replacements have been gobbled up already by other teams. Call it unfair, call it supply and demand, but that’s just how it is.

    The fact that his quarterbacking career has been jeopardized not by his history, but by his poor play this season only hones this reality. Again, whether you believe in redemption or not, whether you believe this is fair or not, that’s just how it is.

    As I learned myself, there are far, far more writers (especially in the field of creative writing) than publishing companies need, and I’d guess journalism has a similar problem. There’s a HUGE supply of writers, GOOD writers, and so if one of them screws up, there’s no INCENTIVE to give them a second chance when they can just be axed and replaced by someone just as good if not better, and probably for less money.

    Supply and Demand really is the bottom line of it all, because it’s all business in a capitalistic society. If you’re a rare talent, you’re not going to get replaced because odds are you can’t be replaced. If there are a bevy of people just as talented waiting in line for your job, you’re going to get cut if you mess up.

    The reality at work here is capitalism, and it doesn’t change from profession to profession. Anyone worried about job security in a more vulnerable career should work hard, be an enthusiastic presence at the workplace, help others, and make themselves irreplaceable through outstanding performance, and above all else:

    Don’t cheat 🙂

    Posted by Gibble96 | November 20, 2012, 3:53 pm
  14. I agree, and congratulations on getting “Freshly Pressed!”

    Posted by Jeff | November 21, 2012, 7:48 am
  15. Congrats on getting freshly pressed. I come from a family of 4 professional athletes .. I am very aware of juicing practices. I am very new to blogging , however once I start writing about what I observed in the NBA and NFL my blog will blow up. Thanks for the story .

    Posted by Becki Duckworth | November 21, 2012, 1:09 pm
  16. Great post – this happens everywhere in sport. I wish these “Sports Stars” would set a better example for future athletes. I think it’s a shame some athletes seem to think that now is the answer – they may get a few years of “stardom” on steroids, but it ruins their body for life – and that’s a long time. Congrats on being FP

    Posted by accountkeepingplus | November 21, 2012, 5:51 pm
  17. Enjoyed the post. As someone who does the marketing for a children’s sports company wwwplaygroundentertainmentgroup.com, I would hope that we could teach kids to have integrity in being good sportsmen and women. Personally though I am not to keen on steroid use, I think that instead of making it illegal they should allow performance enhancing drugs, but only the safest forms.

    Posted by playgroundentertainment | November 21, 2012, 7:59 pm
  18. I wouldn’t have even touched him with a ten foot stick. His stats will diminish as a result of his sobriety. If anybody’s interested I’m a new blogger. http://theboltsblog.wordpress.com/ Read and give me constructive criticism.

    Posted by chargers1797 | November 21, 2012, 8:22 pm
  19. Steroids probably aren’t quite the same as keeping a file in your glove to modify a ball you are throwing, but I don’t mind cheating in baseball so much. I just wish they didn’t all get paid so much AND have stadiums paid for by taxes!

    Posted by Game Delver | November 21, 2012, 11:56 pm
  20. thanks for the post – interesting read. i dont watch baseball but love (italian) football (soccer to you lot) and the amount of scandal/cheating etc that goes on in it is huge. Still, i’m obviously addicted and try to focus on the good it does instead. I cant imagine a life without it and I think rather than compare sports with work/writing we should compare it with being human and the various types of human and human activities there are. It does reflect the country its played in. If anything Work is the bizarre situation we find ourselves in with strict unrealistic rules and behaviour – for some as soon as they put the uniform on they can do anything they feel like and ignore or discount any normal morals involved..

    Posted by thetalkinghangover | November 22, 2012, 6:10 am
  21. some good posts on here. man, sports writing is hard.

    Posted by thetalkinghangover | November 22, 2012, 6:12 am
  22. It’s all about the money.

    If you can help the team win then you are in.

    It happens in a lot of professions though, just this is the most high profile.

    Journalists are quite unusual in their own position though. Because one of their most important aspects is to be seen to be trusted. If you break that trust then it’s really hard to get it back. Sports stars mostly just kick a ball. In any sane society they shouldn’t be taken particularly seriously.

    Posted by sedatedtabloidreader | November 22, 2012, 6:46 am
  23. Thanks everyone for the comments. Really kinda taken aback by WP highlighting this litte post, but glad you all enjoyed — and more importantly, added your own thoughts. Hope you had some time to read some other posts here. I’m hoping to write more frequently here.

    Posted by joshsternberg | November 22, 2012, 2:36 pm
  24. very thoughtful post. i still can’t believe melky got that offer from the blue jays. disappointing. spot on that this is only tolerated in sports.

    Posted by RoboBron | November 27, 2012, 9:05 pm

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