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Get serious

Sports | Fans want athletes to quit fixing games and start fixing cheating

Issue: "All's fair at the fair," Aug. 25, 2007

Cheating in sports is nothing new-see the 1919 "Black Sox" or high-jumper Hermann "Dora" Ratjen of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But in a summer that has witnessed a juiced slugger break baseball's career home runs record, a veteran basketball referee get caught fixing games, and the leader in the world's premier cycling event drop out amid doping allegations, professional athletics seem to have reached new heights for foul play.

Does anybody care? Will this crisis of legitimacy translate into waning popularity?

William Morgan, editor of the new anthology Ethics in Sport (Human Kinetics, 2007), believes so. He told WORLD that rampant cheating violates the public trust and threatens the future of all sports: "If everybody distrusts everybody else, then the whole thing is going to bust up and won't be able to sustain itself. At some point, the fans will turn away."

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Of course, sports ethicists and analysts have made similar predictions for decades, forecasting incorrectly that labor strikes or free agency would disenfranchise scores of fans. Such prognosticators have perhaps underestimated the cultural draw of high-level athletics and overestimated the commitment to principle among addicted sports consumers.

But cheating could be different. Unlike labor disputes or unstable rosters, rampant rule-breaking undermines the foundational attraction separating sports from most other forms of entertainment-namely, the unpredictability of an undetermined outcome.

In a recent unscientific ESPN.com poll, almost 60 percent of more than 80,000 respondents strongly disagree with the statement, "It isn't cheating if you don't get caught." And close to 70 percent of respondents believe that athletes attempting to shave points or fix a game's outcome deserve a lifetime ban from their sport on the first offense.

Such moral seriousness on the issue underscores the desire of most fans to see cheating stamped out of the games they love. But not all cheaters are viewed equally. Only 3 percent of respondents favored a lifetime ban for athletes caught using illegal equipment and just 15 percent considered lifetime bans appropriate in doping cases.

For some sports fans, cheating only adds to the intrigue.

Biggest cheats

A timeline in infamous crimes against sport

1919 Black Sox: Eight Chicago White Sox players were banned from baseball for life after admitting the team accepted money from gamblers to fix the World Series.

1932 and 1936 She-male Olympians: Stella Walsh, born Stanlislawa Walasiewiczowna, claimed gold for Poland in the women's 100 meters at the 1932 games in Los Angeles but was determined to be male after his death in 1980. Hermann "Dora" Ratjen took fourth in the women's high jump at the 1936 Berlin games and remained undetected until 1957.

1968 Sorry sailor: English businessman Donald Crowhurst veered off course in the Golden Globe round-the-world yacht race but attempted to snatch victory by lying low on the coast of South America and waiting to rejoin his competitors when they circled back around. He sent false radio reports of his progress and might have fooled the world had the scheme not riddled him with guilt and driven him to suicide.

1988 Fastest man alive: Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson set a new world record in the 100 meters at the Seoul Olympics but tested positive for anabolic steroids and was stripped of his gold medal.

1994 Ice thugs: Jeff Gillooly, husband to figure skater Tonya Harding, clubbed his wife's toughest competitor Nancy Kerrigan in the knee one month before the Lillehammer Olympics. Harding, who later admitted plotting the assault, failed to medal while Kerrigan recovered to claim silver.

2003 BALCO: A federal raid of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative uncovered designer steroids and lists of high-profile customers, including Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

2006 Tour de farce: One week after staging the greatest comeback in Tour de France history, American cyclist Floyd Landis tested positive for the use of synthetic testosterone, a charge he denies.

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