Cheating in Sports — Where Do We Go From Here?


“I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” — U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Potter Stewart on pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964

Consider some of the current controversies in organized sport: football inflation pressures,
Illustration credit: Andrew Bassey Udofa

These and other contemporary issues pose unprecedented challenges to the integrity of organized sport. Accordingly, definitions and standards for what constitutes cheating vs. fairness have never been so needed or consequential.

History provides us with clear instances of cheating in sport: Chicago’s “Black Sox” conspiring to intentionally lose baseball games in the 1919 World Series, pitcher Gaylord Perry throwing spitballs in the 1970s, or sprinter Ben Johnson taking banned steroids leading into the 1988 Olympics.

However, many contemporary sport “cheating” controversies simply cannot be evaluated in an equivalently black and white framework.

Consider the ethical dilemmas the following situations pose for modern athletes and athletics: Is it cheating to take a new “designer drug” if: a) it is not banned, b) it enhances performance, and c) many of your competitors take it, and d) you are disadvantaged if you do not?

Is it cheating to fake a fall to induce a referee to call a foul on an opponent?

Is it cheating for an athlete seeking enhanced endurance to sleep in an altitude tent to boost red blood cell production when: a) the practice is not illegal, and b) other athletes do not have the means to do the same.

Is it cheating to use genetic techniques (rather than physical training) to activate dormant portions of one’s DNA to improve muscle performance?

Three of the preceding scenarios presented themselves years ago, the fourth may or may not have yet occurred, but has been a credible threat for some time. All four —> Read More