By any measure, Bud Wilkinson, the legendary football coach at Oklahoma, was the epitome of success when he led the Sooners to 47 consecutive victories between 1953 and 1957. But Wilkinson didn't measure success by the tally of his team's wins.
"Every game is an opportunity to measure yourself against your own potential," he said, leaving unspoken the other half of the equation, that every game is also an opportunity to confront one's own limitations. Those who lack the courage to genuinely measure up in sport either quit or resort to the refuge of cowards-- cheating.
The NFL's Spygate debacle is a classic example of the fear-based approach to sport, for the notion that the end justifies the means is the creed of those who are afraid they don't have the goods to get there the old fashioned way: by earning it.
It is staggering to listen to an intelligent man such as Bill Bellichick try to rationalize that he thought shooting video of an opposing team's signals was somehow within the spirit and law of the game. Signals, by definition, are encrypted communiques designed to keep each team's game plan and play selection confidential, meaning the opposition must rely upon ingenuity, analysis of tendencies, and interpretation of on-the-field clues and reads if they are to decipher the code.
Theft, Mr. Bellichick, is not ingenuity or intellect. It's avarice.
The same can be said for those who trade in steroids, HGH, ghost-written college term papers, and their varied kin, for coming out ahead is not winning, it is not success, unless it has been attained honestly. Trophies, championships, and awards are the gaudy baubles of sport, not its essence, for bling can be bought. Bling can be stolen. And bling has a very short shelf life.
Character is the ageless heart and soul of sport. It is what pumps life and meaning into every athletic contest worth playing, viewing, or remembering. It can't be purchased. It can only be manufactured from within. And it is a choice that reveals itself never more splendidly than when it appears on a field of play.
"Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids."
The words of Aristotle are over 2,300 years old but they resonate as though they'd been written yesterday. When an athlete cheats he plays to keep from losing rather than playing to win. And what he avoids in the process are the difficult experiences upon which character is founded and the revelation of bonafide potential, robbing us all, but mostly himself.