History of Cheating in Sports

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

We take a look back at the four major U.S. sports and their biggest instances involving cheating.

By: Vicente Vitela, Sports Editor

From deflate gate in the Super Bowl to the steroid era in baseball, cheating and sports go together like ketchup on pancakes--we may not like it but people still do it.

Cheating in sports dates back all the way to the first Olympic Games, where javelin throwers would shave their equipment, in order to make their throw farther, and faster, while people involved in wrestling would manipulate the order of matches to receive an unfair advantage.  Nowadays, cheating is a blemish on any sport that it effects, and it has at one point or another taken place in the four major American sports: MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.

One major instance of cheating took place during the “steroids era” in baseball, which started in the late 80’s and ran through the early 2000s. It was dubbed the steroids era due to the high number of athletes who were either suspended, or admitted to taking anabolic steroids to enhance their performance.

This era saw a substantial increase in offenses compared to the previous decade, in particular, a spike in the long ball.  MLB had six straight years of double digit players hitting 40 homers or more, and in 2001 Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, a single season record still held to this day. Cheating in baseball can also be linked back to the Black Sox scandal, which took place during the 1919 World Series. In this case eight players from the Chicago White Sox highlighted by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the first celebrities of baseball, purposely threw the World Series allowing the Cincinnati Reds to win in exchange for money. All eight man were acquitted in court, but where later banned for life from MLB.

While the NFL has been at the center of the most recent controversy, one constant in the sport has been its involvement in cheating. The most recent case of cheating took place during the 2015 AFC Championship game which saw the Patriots deliberately using deflated balls which gave Tom Brady, 38 at the time, an advantage considering his increase in age and decrease in ability to throw the deep pass. The Patriots were later charged $1 million dollars, a four game suspension for Brady, and the forfeiture of first round picks.

Another blatant display of cheating occurred when Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin, prevented Baltimore Ravens returner Jacoby Jones from running back a punt for a touchdown by standing in his path. This forced Jones to slow down, which led to his eventual tackle. Tomlin was later fined $100,000 for the incident.

The NBA and its players have also had their share of interactions with the law already branding the sport with a bad boy image. Because of this attitude of acceptance towards cheating, many rule breakers have fallen through the cracks. Although it has not been as extreme as in other sports, there have been quite a few game changing acts like the situation with the Boston Celtics. Dead spots on the court where the ball would not bounce as high were avoided by the Celtics while they forced opponents into those spots to gain an advantage. Another instance occurred when a player from the Washington Wizards tugged on the shorts of a player on the Portland Trailblazers while he was near the Wizards bench, causing him to be out of position on the set play.

The NHL, a winter sport and primarily played in countries with colder temperatures, takes cheating more seriously than other sports. That being said, the league has also had its fair share of cheating take place. There have been quite a few players who have been caught using illegal equipment, most notably illegal sticks. Hockey players who are caught with modified sticks often have thinner blades at the bottom and thicker handles, giving them better grip and faster release on the puck. Another instance of cheating includes players illegally removing goal posts in order to avoid points from counting; once the net is removed from its original place anything that occurs after is null and void.

The good news is that cheating has toned down due to advances in technology which have deterred people from attempting to break the rules or at least has forced people to come up with a more creative way to cheat the system. Syrup belongs on pancakes and hopefully we see a decrease in ketchup on pancakes.

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