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Zero tolerance policy needed in pro sports

I grew up with a hard-core, old-school coach. My Dad preached the values of athletics to us from a very young age. While participating in sports, we were to learn skills, but also values; good habits, but also important lessons; and the biggest lesson of all was sportsmanship. We were to respect our teammates and coaches, our opponents, the officials and the rules of the game. No matter what.

So the latest allegations and fallout of two more professional sports cheating scandals are not just disappointing. They literally hurt.

The NFL is investigating the New England Patriots for allegedly filming the Bengals’ sideline and signals while supposedly producing a video about one of their scouts.

And more recently, multiple Major League Baseball managers and coaches resigned or were fired after a league investigation revealed the Houston Astros’ sophisticated system of stealing signs during their 2017 World Championship Season.

I like to think of sports as an honorable endeavor –what is the satisfaction of winning a rigged game?

Joe Paterno is credited with saying, “Success without honor is like an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.”

Is it really worth it to risk an individual’s or franchise’s legacy by cheating? Even if some of the allegations are proven false, the stigma remains. The asterisk will always be there when discussing these teams that have been considered among the greatest.

Certainly, there is tons of money to be gained in winning championships. And with today’s increasingly-sophisticated technology, the opportunities to gather information, covertly and otherwise, are ever-present.

But we, that is the fans, as well as the powers that be in the highest offices of professional sports, the media, and our society as a whole, should demand better from the best in their professions. We should do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the games we love.

In the garages of NASCAR, team members push the limits of rules and mechanics on a daily basis; in realty this form of “innovation” is part of the sport, and not really cheating until they get caught. Each year the rules evolve, and the process continues.

Some would argue this concept in baseball and football, using every available tactic to gain a competitive advantage. But there is a line of fairness and sportsmanship that should not be crossed. The punishment should be more than money.

A million dollar fine might as well be a parking ticket to the New England Patriots.

I wonder if a harsher penalty (ala Pete Rose) would make a difference? Would banishment from the game and ineligibility for the Hall of Fame be enough of a deterrent? Or have we as a society become too complacent in accepting this unacceptable behavior?

A generation of young people are watching today’s sports. The message has to be sent that cheaters never win.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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