In November of 2019, former Houston Astros player Mike Fiers claimed the team had violated the Major League Baseball (MLB) official rules by engaging in sign stealing (i.e. the signal players use to communicate their next move) in 2017. These serious allegations raised concern about the principles of sportsmanship and fair competition.
The MLB reaffirmed their belief in the importance of transparency and conducted an investigation while the Astros fully cooperated. On Monday January 13th, the MLB released a document announcing the completion of the investigation and also provided in depth details of said investigation and its conclusions. The MLB found the Astros guilty of violating official rules regarding sign stealing. Consequences of these violations include forfeiting their first and second round selection of the first-year player draft in both 2020 and 2021. The Astros will be charged a $5 million fine, the highest allowable fine under the MLB constitution. The MLB will also discipline select individuals who played a particular role in these wrongdoings.
This is not the first cheating scandal to make major headlines in recent history. Notably the New England Patriots “Deflategate” in 2015 caused a major uproar. When the integrity of the game is compromised, ethics and morality are called into question. Cheating can have immensely negative consequences. This is especially true at the national or international level where details of the incidents will be made widely available for public scrutiny. Are these athletes “bad” people or are there other factors at play?
Athletes are often viewed on a pedestal as having leadership and determination that should be sought after. They may be taught that they are to have a win at all cost attitude. Perhaps they feel it is their duty to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of their team. However, in attempts to forward oneself or their team by trying to cheat the system, they may actually cause more harm than good. So at what cost are these choices made? In order to attempt to understand why an athlete or their team may cheat, we must ask whether the end justify the means. In other words, is it worth it? It is a matter of risk versus reward, and the pay-off for cheating is tremendously high. However, in this case, the consequences of forfeiting the draft may not only impede future performance, but may provide other teams with greater opportunity.
How often does cheating actually occur in sport? Not only that, but how often does cheating pay off? These are questions which will never have a concrete answer. One thing for certain, there is no one size fits all solution to this ever present issue. The matter at hand goes beyond sport and competition and is present in every facet of life.