Cheating hurts more than just the person or team that unwittingly loses. It hurts more, even, than the person doing the cheating. If allowed to take root in a society, it can destroy peaceful order, undermine public confidence and sap a nation of its strength.

That may be an unfair load to strap onto the shoulders of the Houston Astros, whose sign-stealing scheme in the 2017 World Series resulted this week in the suspension, and subsequent firing, of the team’s manager and general manager, as well as a fine and the loss of future draft picks.

But then, given the outsize importance Americans now place on sports, it may be understating things.

Astros’ Hinch, GM banned for season for sign-stealing
Red Sox manager Alex Cora fired in sign-stealing scandal

Cheating is, of course, not new to sports. It gripped the nation 100 years ago after evidence showed members of the Chicago White Sox had deliberately thrown the World Series. It rattled the world of college basketball in the early 1950s when seven schools in the New York area and three in the Midwest were found to have shaved points in order to help gamblers. It hid in the shadows for a half century after the New York Giants came from several games back to win the National League pennant from the Brooklyn Dodgers, aided, again, by an elaborate sign-stealing scheme. 

It shocked the NBA in 2007 when referee Tim Donaghy was found to have conspired with gamblers to make key calls that ensured certain teams would cover point spreads. Allegations of it have dogged the New England Patriots through the years, including recently when someone credentialed by the team was caught recording a Bengals game from the press box in violation of the rules.

The key to making sure it doesn’t grow as a cancer is to respond with quick and strong punishments. Baseball may not have survived the 1919 White Sox scandal if Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis hadn’t banned eight players for life. A court case on the matter had acquitted all the players after key evidence disappeared.

The key to making sure it doesn’t grow as a cancer is to respond with quick and strong punishments.

Conversely, baseball’s reluctance to come to terms with steroid abuse several years ago may have influenced many high school athletes to try using substances, as well. In 2002, the Deseret News published stories about high school athletes using steroids.

Professional athletes have enormous influence on young people in America, from dress and mannerisms to how they play the game. And those young people will grow up to be leaders in business, politics and other endeavors.

Major League Baseball’s punishments for the Houston Astros this week were quick and strong. They affected livelihoods and sent a signal that accountability begins at the top. We hope this will tamp down any urges by others to seek success in a similar manner.

Seventy-one years ago, playwright Arthur Miller gave us Willy Loman and his sons, Biff and Happy, the central characters in “The Death of a Salesman.” One level of that classic tragedy concerns the inability of a father and son to see that good looks, athleticism and popularity do not of themselves equal a realization of the American dream. 

Likewise, today’s rising generation must understand that home runs, touchdowns and championships don’t matter much in and of themselves. The virtues that bring players and teams to those marks, virtues that anyone can apply to a variety of pursuits, are what matter.