At the Rio Olympics last week a U.S. swimmer, Lilly King, criticized her Russian counterpart, Yulia Efimova, who’s been linked to a state-sponsored doping scandal, mostly for the fact Efimova was even there to compete, and King was right to be offended.
There’s proof the Russian government accommodated, assisted or even organized a wide-ranging cheating/doping program at the Sochi Olympics two years ago, and some bans on certain athletes or programs were in place before the Brazil Olympics. But a few questionable athletes are still there.
Cheating is not unusual in elite or pro sports, looking as far back as the Black Sox scandal in Major League Baseball in the WWI era, or Pete Rose’s gambling issues up to the 1980’s. The stigma connected to cheating seems to have changed, though. It seems in the modern pro sports world cheaters are treated with an indifferent shoulder shrug if not outright admired.
Pete Carroll, now head coach of the NFL Seattle Seahawks, was chased out of college football in the States several years ago after his USC outfit was buried under a mountain of cheating charges. The charges included crooked “jobs” for student athletes (they’re not supposed to be paid anything to play college ball). Rather than face the music, Carroll jumped ship to the NFL for a million dollar contract. Nobody to this day really said anything about it.
NFL fans will also be familiar with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, caught cheating two years ago (he knew about an illegal scheme to deflate footballs which made them easier to hold and throw). Brady recently exhausted all appeals after never admitting to wrongdoing. After it became clear his appeals were done Brady was quoted as saying something like, “I’m putting it behind me, time to move on.” He’s never put it behind him, he denied responsibility every step of the way. The appeals court threw your complaint in the garbage, and Tom, everyone just wants to make this very clear, you’re going to serve your suspension for cheating whether you accept it or not.
It’s time to send a message about cheating. As nasty as it is to say, the entire Russian federation Olympic team should have been barred from Rio, whether they knew about doping or not.
It doesn’t appear, though, that pro sports learned their lesson about cheating. North American sports leagues went through intense cheating controversies over the past 15 or so years, notably when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, in attempts to break the MLB home run record, juiced up with a variety of steroids and other cheating technology that may have allowed a single player to bask in limelight, but threw the reputation of pro baseball in the gutter. Finally the pro leagues imposed punishments but only after they were forced to, in my opinion.
However, international sports leagues, including Olympic committees and governments run by former KGB agents, either don’t realize the price of cheating, or, more likely, don’t care.
The fact so many Russian Federation athletes are competing in Rio proves that.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.