So pervasive is cheating in professional sports that it has all but become part of the game. Some cheating has been on the grand scale. One thinks first of the use of steroids by baseball players, whose chemically aided achievements have bollixed up the statistical records on which baseball may almost be said to be based. Much earlier, in the 1950s, there was point shaving, arranged by gamblers, in college basketball, the great sports scandal of its day.
College football and, only a bit less, college basketball have long been riddled with cheating. The cheating has taken different forms, among them violations of recruiting, alumni slipping money to athletes, coaches helping to fix players’ course grades.
More and more, though, cheating in sports has been about securing small advantages. Such items include baseball teams positioning people in the bleachers with binoculars to steal the opposing team’s catcher’s signals to his pitcher. Or basketball players flopping to the floor in the hope of attracting charging fouls. Or tennis players trying to slow an opponent’s momentum by toweling off after every point. Or scuffing baseballs with emery boards or using Vaseline, spit or other substances to alter the flight of pitches. Under-inflating footballs is a new twist in a long tradition of taking small but real advantage. Some might think it gamesmanship. It’s cheating.