A Spiritual Take on Cheating in American Sports


There are few so gross to imagine that we can direct infinite wisdom in the dispensation of providence, or persuade Him to alter those laws He contrived before the foundation of the world for putting things in a regular course. — Matthew Tindal, 1653–1733

He will not endeavor by prayers and supplication, by fastings and

genuflections, to change the mind of the ‘Infinite’ or alter the course

of nature; neither will he employ others to do those things in his place… He will know that honest labor is the highest form of prayer. He will spend no time in ringing bells or swinging sensers, or in chanting the litanies of barbarism… — Robert Green Ingersoll, The Improved Man, 1890

Both Tindall and Ingersoll, centuries apart, expressed views on a topic that, centuries later, inform a matter of ethics and fair play in modern sporting competitions.

Matthew Tindall perceived requests for outside assistance from a divine, supernatural force to be a great impertinence–an affront to any deity. How dare mere mortals be so gross as to seek adjustments of laws put in a regular course by the One with infinite wisdom?

Robert Ingersoll also noted that a much-to-be-desired Improved Man would appreciate the folly importuning The Infinite to change His mind or alter the course of nature. How disrespectful. Honest labor, translated in the sports world as hard training and giving one’s all, is the sole ethical path to glory.


What’s going on when a baseball player points to the sky as he nears home plate after hitting a home run, suggesting a conspiracy with a sky god who in some way provided help?

Is that fair?

Isn’t that outside assistance?

Or in football, when a player scores a touchdown and engages in a ritual that suggests indebtedness to a higher power not even on the field of play who seems to be getting credit for the player’s success.

Should home runs and touchdowns and so on count if athletes seek or receive outside assistance?

Should not everyone be required to honor a level playing field where everyone does his best, relying solely on preparation, teammates and his/her own talents?

Didn’t the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros in recent years find themselves in a bit of a fix after getting help with signals to home plate sent from team members not actually on the field? If mere mortals are forbidden to interfere, how much more flagrant is the violation if a competitor solicits help from the ruler of the universe?


I’ve competed in triathlons for 40 years, and I can assure you, dear readers, that getting help from any source is strictly forbidden under Article III, Section 3.4 of the Rules of Race Conduct. The penalty for receipt of outside assistance is a DQ (i.e., disqualification).

Yet, despite this rule, many triathletes do invite outside assistance. We know this, not because race officials or anyone else for that matter have witnessed such assistance being rendered, but rather because winners have openly declared having had outside help, even bragged about it. What’s more, they publicly give profuse thanks to their unauthorized beneficiary and show no remorse whatsoever for deliberately enlisting illegal aid from a powerful ally.

Reforms are needed.

Don’t you think it’s about time that those of us who play fair, rely on intense training and hard-earned skills, and never seek or receive outside assistance in races, demand a stop to the shameless testimonials that laud the rule-breaking of outside interference in our beloved sport?

That was a rhetorical question. Of course it’s time, high time!

Just play fair. You did the training–you do the race.


Is the summoning of divine intervention from an imaginary deity really cheating? Granted, there is intent, but if the request is directed to the clouds and it can be proven beyond doubt that no one lives in the clouds, then surely speaking to thin air cannot constitute an indiscretion. Insanity, maybe. Delusion, certainly. Attempt to cheat, probably. Outside assistance, dubious.

(Invited commentary by Grant Donovan, Perth, Australia)

Source by Donald Ardell

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