Superstar Sports Players More Likely to Cheat

As the second MLB doping scandal shows, there are not enough disincentives to play clean in the first place

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The first player to be affected by Major League Baseball’s crack-down on those caught using banned performance-enhancing drugs was Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun, who was suspended for the rest of the season. One would think that it would be the struggling or fringe players who’d be more likely to cheat, but Braun was a 2011 National League MVP. He has been a star his entire career, beginning in 2007 when he was named the National League Rookie of the Year. So why, of all people, would Braun feel the need to cheat?

(MORE: First Up, Braun: Baseball Starts Suspending Stars for Taking PEDs)

It turns out that those who feel more entitled to win—such as a star major leaguer—are more likely to cheat. In the player’s own mind, his win is a foregone conclusion, so how he gets that win is less important. He forgets about how his actions affect everyone. Instead, he’s focused solely on himself. Over time, he may look at rules as unworthy obstacles;rule-enforcers become the bad guys, not him. It’s a narcissistic justification that goes something like: “I am supposed to win. If people truly understood my greatness, then I wouldn’t have to cheat. But they’re in my way. It’s their fault: they’re making me do this.”

Research conducted by Zoe Chance, a professor of marketing at Yale School of Management, provides additional insight. Chance and colleagues found that, after people cheated on a test, they saw their inflated scores as a true measure of their ability. This is why cheaters are often repeat offenders. They incorporate their ability to cheat into their overall ability to succeed. Perhaps this explains why Ryan Braun didn’t learn his lesson in 2011, when he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs but avoided punishment because of a technicality. Cheaters don’t think about how close they came to disaster the last time – how they were nearly caught – they think “I can get away with this.” They think cheating worked once, and then they count on it working again. Lance Armstrong was the master of this—doping while denouncing those who correctly said he was doping.

(MORE: Lance Armstrong’s Confession and the Psychology of Elite Athletes)

Another reason stars may cheat more: we are more forgiving of their sins. As soon as Braun was suspended, officials from the MLB and the MLB Players Association, immediately said that they look forward to Braun’s return to baseball. Compare that to the player worried about being sent down to the Minors. If he gets caught for drugs, they aren’t going to give him another season. He’s gone for good.

Once caught, star athletes may “come clean” and admit their offenses – but with the money at stake, the self-justifications, the undeserved forgiveness – there are just not enough disincentives to play clean in the first place. After all, we thought that the previous MLB steroid scandal was going to solve the problem once and for all, but here we are again, just five years later. Perhaps we need to try a new tactic – something like that of the Ancient Greeks.

During the fourth century BC, a boxer, Eupolos, was caught rigging Olympics’ boxing matches – the first cheating scandal in the Games’ history. Officials decided to fine the cheating athletes, and used the money to erect 10 large statues of angry Zeus lining the entrance to the Olympic Stadium. At the bottom of every statue was the name of one of the cheating athletes and a description of the offense. In 400 more years of Olympics, there were just a handful of other instances of cheating. So perhaps the next set of MLB fines should go to erecting a statue or two outside the Baseball Hall of Fame. A permanent bronze list of those who were so consumed with winning, that they ultimately lost everything. Most of all, our respect.

8 comments
PapaFoote
PapaFoote

FYI - I remember back when I "did sports in high school" - the "saying" was - if you want to "cheat", just don't be "seen"!

The Old Mountain Goat seemed to "think" - well, I suppose that "cheating" was thought to be OK?

NWI
NWI

You make it sound like Ryan Braun was accused of cheating, didn't learn a first lesson, and continued to cheat. I believe this suspension stems from the 2011 case and, probably more importantly, from the fact that he avoided suspension at that time. I don't believe there was any subsequent proof of Braun's continued use of banned substances.

internationalcrosser
internationalcrosser

The title should read: "Super atheltes suppress the non-super atlethes by Juicing" because everyone knows that all these players are on it. So the super star, like Barry Bonds, has to "jiuce it up" in order to stay ahead of those with lesser natural talent that would only become equal to his natural talent due to PED usage. Therefoe, to preserve the image of his natural talent that is acknowledged by the world and his peers, he has to taint that image by using PEDs and then justify it by saying, "well they all do it."   Bottom line players at that level of competition are just plain narcissistic characters and if they didn't compete by pro ball then they still woulkd cheat, i.e. if Barry Bonds had no talent to hit, throw or run and was just a stock broker, he surely would have been caught for insider trading. The reason a broker engages in insider trading is not so much that he needs money to eat, but rather he cheats to stay ahead of others who also are trying to make more money than he. So the argment that the article above propounds is right.

Art.Oh
Art.Oh

"It turns out that those who feel more entitled to win—such as a star major leaguer—are more likely to cheat."

Stop. This is your nut graf, and it's wrong. Of the baseball players who have failed drug tests, the VAST majority have been minor leaguers. And even among major leaguers, the VAST majority have been far from stars.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

i would argue that the reason stars cheat more is that cheating is what gets them to superstar status in the first place and then they have to continue to cheat to maintain the level people expect from them.  if you're a superstar based on talent alone (such as ken griffey jr., derek jeter, cal ripken jr.) there's no need or pressure to cheat, so you don't. if you're a very good, but not quite star player, then there's more pressure because you're so close, but not quite able to fill your potential naturally (such as braun, a-rod, sosa, mcgwire, etc.). i feel a more appropriate title would be  "Cheating Athletes More Likely to be Superstars."


hivemaster
hivemaster

@Art.Oh Minor leaguers are also tested more often.  They don't have the MLBPA fighting the MLB front office to limit testing.

AshleyMerryman
AshleyMerryman

@Art.Oh Hi, Art -  I think there's some confusion here; hope I can clarify. I didn't write "major leaguers are more likely to cheat." I said that "those who feel entitled to win... are more likely to cheat." The parenthetical reference back to a baseball player is meant to be illustrative, not mathematical. So my point was that it is the sense of entitlement that seems to be determinative. Indeed, not all MLB players - even All-Stars - necessarily have that sense of entitlement. In the previous paragraph, I wrote about fringe /struggling players - again - not meaning to be mathematical - but there the point is - Braun wasn't a struggling player. And that's my point: it seems he of all people wouldn't need to be involved. And yet he is.  Hope that helps.