While briefly away this weekend I ran across this article on cheating in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal. The author expresses his justifiable disdain for people who maintain that one cannot said to have cheated unless one gets caught. He writes:
Europe was in a tizzy this past week. The ruckus involved the finale to last week's World Cup qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France. In the concluding moments of the game, French team captain Thierry Henry rescued a ball that was going out of bounds by grabbing it with his hand. (For some reason known only to the inventors of soccer, this is a no-no.) Shuttling the ball deftly to his foot, Mr. Henry set up the decisive goal. The referee failed to catch the French footballer's cheating, and after the game Mr. Henry proclaimed that the ref's error absolved him of responsibility: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the referee. I played it, the referee allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."
Mr. Henry's attitude is shared by athletes in just about every American sport. They believe anything the ref doesn't call is OK. With the burden of maintaining integrity entirely on officials, cheating is encouraged. Players hide behind a petty legalism that liberates them to cozen and counterfeit—or worse.
"I watch a lot of sports today, and I swear it's a dirtier game," says Randy Roberts, a Purdue University professor who has written several sports histories. There is "more clipping" in football, he notes, and "more hitting out of bounds; more dirty shots." Then there are the low maneuvers that don't involve gratuitous violence: How often have we seen a wide-receiver dive for the ball, scoop it up in full knowledge that it has bounced off the turf, and then insist he caught it fair and square? That isn't wily play; that's dishonest play. Like Mr. Henry, a lot of current athletes take the attitude that it's fine to do whatever you can get away with. If you fool the referee, all the better.
Perhaps these people maintain–as do many of my students when discussing the same examples–that cheating is part of a game defined entirely by its end result: the point of playing any kind of game is winning, not losing. This attitude I think is the more likely cause of cheating than the one the author later suggests:
One wonders if the same dynamics affect life off the field. Has the proliferation of rules, regulations and enforcement-agency umps in the worlds of business and finance had the perverse effect of encouraging bad actors to get away with whatever they can? Will more layers of enforcement simply reinforce the notion that anything the financial referees miss is OK? Or what about legislators who regularly write laws that they know don't pass constitutional muster, leaving it to the Supreme Court to worry about such niceties. Shouldn't lawmakers strive to honor the rule of law instead of seeing what they can slip past the umpires?
I think it's ludicrous to suggest that the existence of rules and regulations is the cause of violations of those same rules and regulations in anything other than a completely trivial sense (you can't break non-existent laws!). Perhaps the cause of the cheating–in the financial sector, in sports, and every day on the Wall Street Journal opinion page–is that people are dishonest. They are especially dishonest, however, when no one holds them to any standard.