Sending a harsh message to sports’ cheaters

Baseball suspensions and fines should reverberate through all sports, down to children's athletics. Cheating is a social ill that needs to be addressed

Ken ReedMajor League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred handed the Houston Astros severe penalties for cheating this week.

Manfred suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year each for their role in using electronic equipment to steal the signs of opponents. He also fined the organization $5 million and stripped the Astros of their first- and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and 2021.

Following the announcement of the penalties, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Luhnow and Hinch.

The penalties were stiff but necessary. As a society, we need to have ethics and integrity in sports or their value is severely diminished.

The actions taken by Manfred will send a positive message throughout the baseball world, from the professional level down to the little leagues.

I like it. It’s good for the game. And a great statement to young players.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi reportedly once said that “winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” That’s the mindset that those involved with the Astros cheating scandal apparently live by.

It’s a wretched approach to sports. A win-at-all-costs mentality is an ego-based approach and represents sport at its worst. On the other hand, a soul-based approach to sports is driven by the ethos of fair play and sportsmanship. That’s sport at its best.

Cheating is simply the antithesis of sport at its best.

Striving to win isn’t the problem. That’s part of the essence of sport. Striving to win at all costs is the problem.

As a teenager, I remember my parents telling me how important fair play and sportsmanship are when you take the field. I recall them paraphrasing the old Grantland Rice quote, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

I would nod, give a cursory “Yeah, it’s important” and quickly get back to the business of being a self-absorbed teenager. It’s not that I disagreed with them about the importance of fair play and sportsmanship, it’s just that I couldn’t really grasp how it could be the most important thing.

Today, I get it. I’m convinced that how you play the game is the most important thing in sports – above and beyond all team and individual accomplishments and awards.

I believe that no matter how long your sports career lasts, whether it ends after Little League or after winning the World Series, what you will most be remembered for is what kind of competitor you were, whether you respected the game and whether you competed with integrity.

Did you play hard, strive to win and do it by the rules? Did you exhibit good sportsmanship?

The Astros flunked those tests in this case.

Sadly, the legacy of Luhnow and Hinch will be that they were the leaders of a team that cheated in their quest to win a World Series. They will always be part of any story about cheating in baseball, right there alongside the Black Sox, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and other cheaters throughout the game’s history.

After all these years, perhaps nobody has described the spiritual aspect of sports as succinctly as Rice did in his famous poem:

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”

Hopefully, the penalties Manfred gave Luhnow, Hinch and the Astros this week will strongly reinforce that message throughout the sports world.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.

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