On Monday, Keith Olbermann ran a smart segment during his show in which he talked about cheating in sports. To recap, Olbermann touched on the latest string of cheating accusations – from Mike Tomlin’s rumba on the sideline to Jason Kidd’s soda fumble – by reminding everyone that cheating in sports goes back as far as sports itself. The curved hockey stick. The dunk. Even the forward pass. All of these at one point or another were considered cheating, only to be legalized once they became so rampant, the leagues had no other choice to allow them. Basically, people got over it.
In the modern day, things aren’t so different. And while the public won’t ever embrace a corked bat quite like the curveball (which was also illegal at one point) and rules changes won’t ever allow HGH (at least openly) the level of apathy when it comes to players cheating in sports has reached a similar point. From most accounts the Seattle Seahawks are running a PED ring that would rival Lance Armstrong’s USPS team and yet, no one seems to give a shit.
But coaches cheating? Apparently that’s where the line gets crossed. At least based on the attention last week’s incidents received. In a way I suppose I understand why. Coaches for the most part, are the lone entity in sports that have any perceived purity left. No one’s surprised when they find out a baseball player was caught injecting pterodactyl DNA into his ass but when a coach cheats? That’s a whole other story. These are leaders of men. Luminaries expected to honor and respect the integrity of the game.
Of course, we know most of that is bullshit since, after all, lots of coaches are former players, but still. That hasn’t stopped people from consecrating coaches as being above this sort of thing. And that’s kind of ridiculous.
Even Vince Lombardi – the godfather of sanctimonious pedagogy – was made famous by his quote:
“Winning is the only thing that matters in sport”
Not “winning right” or “winning with integrity.” Just winning. To assume that Lombardi was so scrupulous that he’d be immune to cheating in order to gain an advantage would be outright naïve. And while it’s fun to think of the mythology of coaches as these morally superior sports figures, it’s important to remember that coaches, like players, are among the most fiercely competitive people on the planet. When push comes to shove, most of them would rather reap the rewards of winning with a guilty conscience than be a virtuous loser. See also: Every college football coach ever.
Of course, winning isn’t the only benefit to cheating. Lombardi’s principals may have made him above corruption, but put a 5 million per year salary in front of him along with the latest science and technology and something tells me old Vince might have second thoughts.
That’s really what all this comes down to. The stakes are higher than ever and they’ll only go higher. And because of that, coaches are susceptible to the same temptations as players. Due to the nature of their job, maybe even more so.
It’s easy to see a coach standing on the sideline and think they’ve got it easy but the reality is, coaching is a shit job. They work 16 hour days, face intense scrutiny, and become so singularly focused on winning that the majority of them spend more time in the film room than they do with their own families. It’s a constant pressure cooker that, in just this season, has nearly claimed the life of two coaches.
But that’s what it takes. When only 32 positions are available and technology, advanced metrics, and more widely available talent have so evened the playing field, the difference between winning and losing can come down to the most miniscule differences. Staying up until 3:00 a.m. because you’re afraid the opposing coach will be up until 2:30 a.m. isn’t good for your health, but as Drew Magary said, “coaches are freaks.” He’s right, coaches are sociopaths. It shouldn’t be a shock or ethically jarring that Tomlin and Kidd cheated. Hell, it’s surprising that more coaches haven’t been caught trying.
Especially when you consider the risk versus reward. We like to think of coaches as being everything that players aren’t. Calm, level headed influencers who make smart, rational decisions but again, they’re driven by many of the same things – fame, money, power. But none of those things are attainable without success. Bill Belichick got docked half a fucking million and a first round draft pick for spying on other teams and you know what? He wouldn’t do a damn thing different. 500,000 is pennies compared to what he’s earned from the success he’s achieved. Is that success tainted? Maybe so, but his job security isn’t. In a league that gets you in the “hot seat” discussion after so much as a three-game losing streak, that alone is worth it.
So maybe it’s time we change our expectations of coaches. We’ve known for awhile that plenty of them are scandalous when it comes to recruiting or incentivizing players, but it goes deeper than that. Coaches are paid to win and if that means flying unmanned drones over an opponent’s practice facility or tossing a goddamn banana peel out in front of a return man, they’ll do it. Because ultimately, coaches are no different than players. They’re just better at hiding it.