Ugh. I’m not quite sure how football has crept into my once sports-free life. Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly how it happened. I have an 11-year-old boy who is obsessed with football.
And maybe a little bit because of roller derby, and learning the art of a good block. And how to recognize a concussion or deal with seeing a compound fracture. And learning that being very tough can be very cool.
Regardless, there is only one more football game to watch this season, and it is the Big One. Kidlet is so excited. I’m moderately excited. Primarily due to the spicy chili and wonderfully-tasty deviled eggs I only get once a year. No, seriously. They are really good eggs decorated to resemble footballs.
Then Deflategate happened. Creating nothing but headaches for the NFL, Vegas book makers, and for me.
Here is my problem now: How do I talk to my Kidlet about cheating? Because, as it turns out (she says, feigning surprise), his heroes cheat.
I think he already knows that athletes cheat. He has watched enough of the 30 for 30 documentaries to see the drugs, the scandals, the falls from grace. These athletes featured in these shows get taken down because they eventually get caught cheating. At some point, all cheaters get caught. Cheaters cheat not because they are smart. They do it because they think they are special. Too special. Too special to get caught. Too special for consequences. These people believe that the rules of both the game and the society do not apply to them.
But there is always a karmic price for cheating. I heard an interesting thought on a podcast the other day. One of the podcasters voiced his opinion that the reason the Southern United States is still battling the devastating effects of poverty, racism, and inequality was that—up until the Civil War—the South was cheating. They were building a robust and stable economy by cheating with slavery. While the Northern States were developing industry and a foundation of sustainability, the South was cheating. And they are still paying for it. That is an interesting notion, isn’t it?
My little nephew cheats at UNO. Every time I play with him. I know he does it, but I play with him anyway. Because, sometimes, I cheat too. If I get stuck in a video game, I don’t hesitate to Google the solution or cheat code. I’ve done that both with and for the Kidlet. I’ve cheated on one or two school tests. I’ve cheated at pub trivia once or twice. And I won’t lie. Those instances of cheating didn’t really detract from the experience of earning trivia points or that B+. I’m pretty sure cheating actually enhances the thrill of UNO for my nephew. He gets a Cheater’s High.
I’ve been cheated on in relationships. Quite a bit, really. I have to wonder if these men who have cheated on me cheated at UNO when they were nine. Actually, I don’t have to wonder. I know that they did. I know that they still do. They cheat on taxes. They cheat at poker. They cheat and cheat and cheat. Is all cheating created equal? Maybe. Probably.
So what do I say to Kidlet about cheating?
I need to tell him that sometimes people cheat because expectations are too high. And I need to let him know that I will never get mad about a bad grade on a test if he can promise me that he tried his best. And that if he didn’t try his best, my disappointment at the bad grade will not last nearly as long as my being upset that he cheated. But I do need to tell him that if I ever learn he cheated on someone he was in a relationship with, the boot print I will leave on his ass will never quite go away.
I need to tell him that being honest doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes, it downright sucks. And that it often easier for people to pretend to be someone they are not, which is absolutely a form of cheating. Or they pretend they can do something they really cannot do, whether it is winning the Tour de France or passing that AP French test.
And I need to tell him that people make mistakes. All of us do. But that one mistake can change your life forever. And fast. So when you are faced with the Kobayashi Maru, chose not to cheat. Even if you know that means you won’t win. Because both the size and scope of any mistakes you are making is mitigated if the truth is on your side.
I guess what I ultimately need to say to Kidlet is that cheating never results in anything but a hollow victory. Even the most morally loose, dead-inside people eventually recognize that whatever victory or gain they have received by cheating will be stained by the knowledge that the only reason they won was because they let some of the air out.
I understand the urge to deflate your ball a little in order to be able to catch it. I have that thought every time I touch my beach ball, once again shooting it across the pool. Letting a little air out of it will make it easier for my hand to grab that slippery sphere.
But… Letting the air out, even just a little bit, means that I am releasing pieces of my dreams. My wants. My desires.
And my truth.
Letting some air out of balls changes the very nature of that ball, if only just a bit.
Some people will always take the opportunity to cheat if it is presented to them. And yes, sometimes these guys will make it all the way to the Super Bowl. But we can all see them. We see them how they really are. Standing next to the real winners, holding their droopy balls.