COLUMN: Following rules important in sports, life

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By John Shindlebower

If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’. So goes the mantra that’s been repeated in many a NASCAR garage as pit crews have tried to wrench their way to the tiniest advantage. For many, a checkered flag seems to justify a checkered image.
But it’s not just racing where shenanagins have been used for a competitive edge in the sporting world. I’m not sure if any game is immune to those who try to cut corners, bend the rules, skirt the system, or just blatantly cheat to get ahead.
Baseball may have some of the most notorious cheaters. Spitball pitchers and their nasty habit of applying saliva to alter the movement of the ball have been around for decades. Some have smiled and admitted their slickery trickery after retirement, while others deny it to their graves. Pitchers have been known to take other objects onto the mound to alter the ball. From Emory boards to Vaseline, some pitchers are willing to try anything. Earlier this season, New York Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for ten games after applying a dob of pine tar on his neck, then using that substance to help him better grip the ball on a cold night.
Of course, the pitchers may argue that their cheating is done only to balance the scales. After all, batters and their use of corked bats have ruined the ERAs of many of throwers over the course of baseball’s history. Sammy Sosa embarrassingly had his corked bat break, exposing his error right there in front of God, TV cameras and the umpires. He argued that it was a bat intended for use in practice, but the league suspended him eight games.
Of course, Sosa and a host of other big names from the 90s will forever be linked to cheating because of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. It nearly ruined the game forever and baseball still suffers a credibility issue as long as it regards records of men like Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and others whose juiced bodies accounted for a home run explosion of inexplicable proportions.
Other sports have had their cheaters also. Some basketball coaches teach their players to flop at phony fouls and have been known to send the wrong guy to the free-throw line after a foul in place of the guy who was actually fouled who happens to be a lousy free-throw shooter.
In football, the NFL’s New England Patriots were caught videotaping signals and stealing plays from opponents. Fans from the 70s and 80s can remember the Oakland Raiders and their use of stickum. At one time in my youth, I used to think Oakland’s team colors were black, silver with yellow socks. The stickum was a yellow sticky substance that receivers and defensive backs would wear. They’d put it on their hands to make it easier to catch balls. I guess at the time it really wasn’t cheating because the substance wasn’t banned until later, but surely it broken the spirit of the rules before the ban.
Preventing cheating and making sure rules are followed are the main purpose of having officials, umpires and referees on the playing courts and fields. These men and women are tasked to prevent cheating, catch cheating and penalize cheating. A linebacker who jumps off sides would continue cheating to get an early start if not for that yellow flag. The 7-foot center would continue blocking every shot if no official was there to call goaltending. The guard would take three steps and palm the basketball every time if the officials refused...OK...those guards get away with cheating all the time, but generally speaking - sports do make a concentrated effort to follow the rules of their given sport.
Ironically, perhaps the game with the best sportsmanship is the game where there are no striped shirts on the field of play and no whistles to be blown, cards to be issued or flags to be thrown. Golf is known as the gentleman’s game, and probably for good reason.
In 2010, a player on the PGA tour named Brian Davis was so close to winning his first tournament on the tour. In a playoff with Jim Furyk, Davis hit a shot that landed in some brush. As he lifted his club backward to send the ball toward the green, he noticed the slightest twitch, indicating he had hit something on his backswing. The rules dictate that such contact requires a two-shot penalty. No one noticed the infraction, and Davis wasn’t sure of it himself, but he felt it and informed PGA officials. They looked at the replay, and sure enough, his club made the slightest contact with a weed. The penalty cost him the tournament, but won him much respect.
Other golfers have sided with integrity over victory. One golfer trying to qualify for the tour had seemingly done so, but when he learned that the ball he had been using was not PGA approved, he turned the infraction in himself. Other golfers have admitted scoring card errors, misplaced balls and other infractions that likely would have gone unnoticed. There’s just something about the gentleman’s code in that game that leads players to value the game above their own success.
In our culture, some cheaters are despised, but let’s admit it, some cheaters we just chuckle at and insist it’s part of their character. In a perfect world, we would celebrate those who are honest, rule-abiding competitors over those who look for shortcuts, loopholes and slights-of-hand. We don’t live in a perfect world.
I thought about this weekend when I encountered a man with integrity. I’m not sure if he’s a sports fan or was ever a sportsman, but he certainly played by the rules of right and wrong on Saturday. In a moment of distraction, I had placed my wallet on top of my vehicle while pumping gas and forgot to retrieve it before driving off. I made it a few blocks from the station before it fell off and landed in the middle of the road. This gentleman didn’t see it fall, but noticed what he thought was a wallet in the street, and made the effort to stop and pick it up and to contact me. This man saved me a lot of headaches, worry and aggravation by his prompt return of my wallet. How good to know that in Spencer County, we’ve got some folks playing by the rules and doing things the right way. Thanks Mr. Redmon!