A spiritual view of cheating in American sports


There are few so rude as to imagine that we can direct infinite wisdom in the dispensation of providence, or persuade him to alter the laws he devised before the foundation of the world to set things on a regular course.. — Matthew Tindal, 1653–1733

He will not exert himself with prayers and supplications, with fasting and

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

of kind; nor will he employ others to do those things for him… he will Know that honest work is the highest form of prayer. He will not waste time ringing bells or moving sensors, or chanting the litanies of barbarism.… –Robert Green Ingersoll, the enhanced man1890

Both Tindall and Ingersoll, centuries apart, expressed views on a subject that, centuries later, informs an issue of ethics and fair play in modern sporting competitions.

Requests for external assistance from a divine and supernatural force were perceived by Matthew Tindall as a great impertinence, an affront to any deity. How dare mere mortals be so rude as to seek adjustments in the laws set in a regular course by the One with infinite wisdom?

Robert Ingersoll also pointed out that a much desired Enhanced Man I would appreciate the folly of pestering the Infinite to change its mind or alter the course of nature. How disrespectful. Honest work, translated in the sports world as training hard and giving everything, is the only ethical path to glory.


What happens when a baseball player points to the sky as he approaches home plate after hitting a home run, suggesting a conspiracy with a sky god who has somehow provided him with aid?

Is that fair?

Isn’t that outside help?

Or in football, when a player scores a touchdown and participates in a ritual that suggests a debt to a higher power, not even on the field of play, which seems to be receiving credit for the player’s success.

Should home runs, touchdowns, etc. count if athletes seek or receive outside help?

ï»Shouldn’t everyone be required to honor a level playing field where everyone gives their best, relying solely on preparation, teammates and their own talents?

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


I have been competing in triathlons for 40 years and I can assure you, dear readers, that obtaining assistance from any source is strictly prohibited under Article III, Section 3.4 of the Rules of Conduct in Racing. The penalty for receiving outside assistance is a DQ (ie disqualification).

However, despite this rule, many triathletes invite outside help. We know this, not because race officials or anyone else has witnessed such assistance, but because winners have openly declared having had outside help, even boasting about it. What’s more, they publicly thank their unauthorized recipients profusely and show no remorse for deliberately enlisting illegal help from a powerful ally.

Reforms are needed.

Don’t you think it’s about time those of us who play fair, rely on intense training and hard-earned skills, and never seek or receive outside help in racing, demand that shameless testimonials praising noncompliance stop? the rules of outside interference in our beloved sport?

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

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


Is invoking divine intervention from an imaginary deity really a trap? Of course, there is intent, but if the request is addressed to the clouds and it can be proved beyond doubt that no one lives in the clouds, then surely talking to the air cannot constitute an indiscretion. Madness, maybe. Delirium, certainly. Attempted cheating, probably. External assistance, doubtful.

(Invited commentary by Grant Donovan, Perth, Australia)

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