This book will convince us that cheating is wrong. By cheating, players deprive sports of honest competition. But perhaps more importantly, cheating, by using performance-enhancing substances, jeopardizes the health of the athletes and aspiring youth that hope to emulate them. Cheating in sports has societal consequences: leads to cynicism even in activities that are not directly related to sports; it engenders a social attitude that accepts that everyone cheats.
Society seems apathetic toward cheating—“It’s just part of the game.” The social cost of cheating is the loss of trust among peers and the degradation of the sense of community. We need to be duly alarmed by the aberrant behavior of sports celebrities. We need a societal change in attitude.
The author suggests that belief in god and religion is important in the development of individual honesty. She seems somewhat ambivalent toward non-believers, but voices her skepticism that we possess a moral compass and an appreciation for honesty as an individual and social value. Herein, as an advocate for fact-based reasoning, I must take issue with the author. To suggest that one must believe in ancient superstition (god) to value honesty is untenable. We free-thinkers submit honestly our inability to believe in that which cannot be verified, and hence do not lend our support to religion. How honest can a person be who advocates, and proselytizes, that which she cannot know to be true?
Aside from this annoying detail in the book, the author is thorough in citing all kinds of cheating in sport, even going back three millennia in the discussion of the Olympic Games. I would be happier if the book made some attempt at exploring more of the complexities associated with sports and the occurrence of cheating:
For example, it would be interesting to note the demographics associated with cheating: Where do cheaters originate—from the inner city, affluent neighborhoods, rural areas, blue collar…. Are there ethnic distinctions, or can a correlation be found with religious belief or family values? In looking at the individuals discussed in the book, they seem to consist of relatively affluent people, perhaps driven by an inordinate need to acquire wealth to satisfy expectations of friends and family. Well, I speculate, but this might be an area worth exploring.
Also, complex ethical questions can be involved: We can imagine that bio-engineers may someday develop substances that enhance individual performance with little or no adverse physiological effect. We might oppose the use of these substances in athletics on the grounds that such use defeats honest competition. But how does this differ from, for example, a young athlete’s access to the support of her modestly wealthy family, which hires a personal trainer to help her achieve a degree of proficiency otherwise unattainable? Her wealth clearly gives her an unfair advantage. Do we consider it unethical for this person to take advantage of her position to accomplish a higher level of proficiency?
Amphetamines have a contemporary use, under physicians’ care, in the treatment of ADHD and as a stimulant. There is also illegal use and abuse of this substance, sometimes leading to serious physical deterioration and even death. However, some estimate that about 10% of baseball players use ADHD medication—a somewhat higher percentage than, but not out of line with, the general population. This practice is frowned upon by MLB officials, and generally receives negative coverage in the press. But the point is that legal use of ADHD medication by the public is widespread. Since society has accepted the value of ADHD medication for general use, why should we forbid baseball players from using it? I would have appreciated further development of this issue in the book.
Bottom line: It’s an interesting book for sports fans. I recommend it, although somewhat guardedly.