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Winners? 

Cheating is as American as apple pie

Recently, many people were stunned by the news that Marion Jones, world-class athlete, American sweetheart, and the United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) Sportswoman of the Year for 2000, had taken steroids during the 2000 Olympics, where she won five medals (three gold and two bronzes).

Jones had been dogged by rumors and reports of doping by BALCO, the company behind "The Clear," a performance-enhancing drug that was undetectable. Jones' ties to C.J. Hunter, her former college coach and ex-husband who tested positive for steroids, and Tim Montgomery, another world-class sprinter who was banned from the sport for taking performance-enhancing drugs (and with whom she has a child), added fuel to the fire. Many people believed Jones because of her vehement denial about using banned substances. She spoke passionately and defended herself in interviews, citing her work ethic and superior abilities. Jones presented herself in such a positive way, that many believed that she was being "hated on," because of her tremendous success.

Fans like me wanted to believe that someone who is as intelligent, focused, talented and successful would not deceive the public or herself. Suffice to say that many fans were shocked and disappointed by the news that Jones had admitted to taking The Clear in 2000 and had lied to a federal grand jury about it. The great "sheroe" had fallen, as she tearfully admitted her wrongdoing, apologized profusely, begged for forgiveness and retired from the sport, to await sentencing for lying to a grand jury. Although extremely disappointed, Jones did something that many others have not: exercised humility and fell on the sword, acknowledging and accepting the public's outrage and consequences of her actions, finally.

Jones' self-inflicted ordeal reflects our culture's obsession with winning at all costs. America loves winners, and people strive to be the best that they can be in many industries, not just sports. Our culture embraces super successful people, constructing public personas that belie the fact that they are mere mortals who make mistakes. Jones' first mistake was very Vick-like -- getting involved and staying involved with the wrong people. Her second mistake was not exercising humility and demonstrating integrity by admitting to the wrongdoing when the allegations first arose. If indeed she did think that she was taking flaxseed oil and did not know that she was taking The Clear, then admitting it and accepting the consequences at that time might have lessened the suffering that she is enduring now ... particularly with a jail cell awaiting her arrival.

Jones stated in her press conference that it was shame and guilt that kept her from coming forward. The real shame is that winners like Jones become losers, because of their obsession to be the best, which mirrors our obsession to have and celebrate the best.

Cheating is a major part of our cultural landscape. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was caught in a cheating scandal earlier in the year. Three weeks after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell circulated a memo reminding owners and coaches that videotaping another team's signals is in violation of league rules, Belichick's staff was caught videotaping the signals of the New York Jets during a game. Subsequently, he and the team were fined. But lacking integrity, Belichick refused to address the issue, never apologizing or acknowledging reporters who dared to ask about it.

Belichick's arrogance is buoyed by a culture of cheaters. There is this notion that we all cheat in some way, shape or form. If it takes a little cheating to gain a lot, then what is the big deal? Belichick's Patriots are still a dynasty that pretty much crushes each opponent that they face. So, why the need for cheating if the team and the coach are that great? Because everyone else is doing it, allegedly.

In 1919, eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for their attempt to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold medal for steroid use, and was banned from the game permanently after testing positive again in 1993. In 1989, superstar Pete Rose was banned from baseball for gambling on sports. All of these people were amazingly gifted and talented, yet felt that they needed a "leg up" on the competition. Why? Because they had to have the admiration and deification of celebrated sports figures, and/or for personal financial gain.

It isn't just sports figures that cheat. Some believe that John F. Kennedy cheated Richard Nixon out of the 1960 American presidency. Others believe that President Bush cheated Vice President Al Gore out of the American presidency in the 2000 presidential election. Superstar reporters Stephen Glass of The New Republic and Jayson Blair of The New York Times cheated by plagiarizing news stories. On a recent episode of Oprah about adultery, she gave the figure that possibly 80 to 85 percent of married American couples have committed adultery.

Cheating is as American as apple pie. What people are finding out, some more publicly than others, is that there are consequences for cheating. Cheating is contagious as evidenced in the sports world. Can we really expect our children not to cheat on their tests and papers, when we cheat on our taxes and on each other? In life, there are no shortcuts to winning. This notion of what constitutes a "winner," should be redefined. Perhaps if we would laud people for demonstrating integrity and admitting wrongdoing, instead of admonishing them, then people would be more apt to tell the truth and not lie or cheat. As a culture, we need to let folks know that it is okay to make mistakes, that there is value in losing, and that when we cheat each other, we ultimately cheat ourselves.

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