Over one 24-hour period two head coaches, Jason Kidd and Mike Tomlin, from two professional sports teams, the Brooklyn Nets and the Pittsburgh Steelers, were accused of cheating. The league(s) never said that — cheating — in so many words, but it’s certainly what they were suggesting. Kidd was fined $50,000 for a “delay of game” and, today, Tomlin was penalized $100,000 for “interfering” with a play.
In fact, for Tomlin, the punishment could be worse. In a statement released by the NFL, Tomlin’s actions could cost Pittsburgh a draft pick:
Because the conduct affected a play on the field, a modification or forfeiture of draft choices will be considered after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined.
At a press conference yesterday, Tomlin called his actions “embarrassing, inexcusable, a blunder, illegal, an error …” He accepted “full responsibility” for his actions but Tomlin did not confess to cheating and still insists his actions were unintentional.
I think probably my biggest error on Thursday night is not realizing that that play jeopardized the integrity of the game. At no time Thursday night in the game or after did I realize that my actions would be perceived potentially, or could be perceived potentially, as intentional. That’s a mistake on my part. As someone in my position that’s supposed to preserve the integrity of the game of football, I should have realized the potential for that and acted accordingly. I didn’t realize the potential. Really, I was focused on the blunder itself, the embarrassment it produced and moving my football team past it.
Kidd confessed too, but he wouldn’t say he was wrong. In fact, when asked if he had learned a lesson from the experience, replied, “nope.”
Errors are a part of the game. Errors (or “turnovers”) are recorded for statistical purposes. Errors are discussed. Errors are dissected. Errors have ruined athlete’s careers and tortured fans for a lifetime. As observers — fans, media, players, coaches — we expect them; anticipate them.
An error confirms we are human. We can forgive (but maybe not forget) Bill Buckner, Fred Snodgrass, Scott Norwood, Chris Webber, Heidi, Steve Bartman, even the greats, LeBron James (The Decision) and Mariano Rivera (Game 7, 2001 World Series). Fans, players and television networks, we all have erred.
Grace is a wonderful thing.
So, what’s the point? What Kidd and Tomlin did are not errors, but cheating, which is defined as an act of dishonesty in order to gain an advantage.
I recently read a story about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was asked about what impact the competitive nature of athletics has on a person both on and off the playing field. His answer was striking. Jabbar said, “In athletics there’s always been a willingness to cheat if it looks like you’re not cheating. I think that’s just a quirk of human nature.”
Cheating in sports in nothing new. It’s as old as Joe Neikro and Gaylord Perry and as recent as Clay Buchhloz. Of course, let’s not overlook everyone’s favorite cheating scandal: Steroids. Yes, it’s given us wonderful characters like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez.
Bill Belichick was handed a $500,000 for violating Article 9 of the National Football League’s rules:
“Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.”
Spygate!? It’s the modern day version of The Echoing Green, a sign-stealing conspiracy more than a half-century old.
Cheating has become part of the fabric in college sports, wrote Sports Illustrated. Go ahead, pick your favorite sport and college team: Ohio State, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, USC, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, Miami … the list of infractions are breathless.
No one likes a cheat. What Tomlin did is wrong. The same goes for Kidd. Will it end? Never. You heard Tomlin. He’ll never admit he cheated. Kidd, he is unphased by the action and reaction. In another week, maybe a month or a year, this will be forgotten and a fresh storyline will capture our attention about the willingness to cheat.