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Cheating vs. gamesmanship: Expanding the debate

On Wednesday, Yankees star Derek Jeter caused a controversy by acting as if he had been hit by a pitch in a game against the Rays, though replays showed, and Jeter later admitted, the ball only had struck his bat. Some called it cheating; others called it gamesmanship. Here's a look at 10 other things we see in sports that brush up against the line separating right and wrong, and our verdict on which way they fall. Some are simply part of the game. Others are illegal and draw penalties (if you get caught). Yet all can be argued as being either cheating or gamesmanship.

Checking a hockey goalie

Contrary to popular belief, a hockey goalie cannot be hit when he leaves the crease. Rule 42.1 states a goaltender is not "fair game'' when he does, but incidental contact is allowed. Sometimes a player "incidentally'' crunches the opposing goalie.

verdict: Cheap shot

You're hitting someone who is stationary, not facing you and likely smaller than you. Worst of all, he is not expecting to be hit. Aside from risking a penalty, it's a stupid move because at some point your goalie is going to leave the crease, and hockey players love the eye-for-an-eye brand of justice.

Soccer players taking a dive

When the topic is the ultimate fakers in sports, soccer is the first sport that comes to mind. Players routinely roll around on the field like they're in so much agony, you expect to see a bone sticking out. Usually, replays show the player had barely been touched. And isn't it amazing how quickly the player recovers after the opposing player has been handed a yellow or red card?

verdict: Disgusting

This has become so much a part of soccer culture that it has been not only accepted, but expected. That doesn't make it any less despicable or sickening. The only way to cure this problem is to consistently penalize the actors, just like hockey has done by handing out penalties to divers.

Going after a QB following an interception

A quarterback throws an interception and immediately every defensive player on the field looks for him to lay him out with a block. Sure, the quarterback has now gone from offense to defense and is eligible to tackle the opposing player. That makes him a candidate to be blocked. However, the defense just wants to annihilate the quarterback.

verdict: Dirty

A defender can accomplish his goal of clearing a path without trying to injure the other team's quarterback. There's nothing honorable about a defender's sole intention being to knock the other team's most important player out of the game. Same goes for targeting a kicker after he kicks off.

Holding in the NFL

It is said that if officials wanted to, they could call holding on every play in the NFL. Offensive linemen have become so proficient at disguising their holds that it's a big deal if one gets called more than once a game for holding.

verdict: Acceptable

It's up to the officials to catch the lineman in the act. If they don't, it's not the lineman's fault. Besides, the other team is doing it, too.

Intentionally fouling a basketball player

You see it all the time. A basketball team trails in the waning minutes, and in a desperate attempt to get back into the game, it starts fouling the other team's worst free-throw shooters. Or worse, it does the old Hack-a-Shaq routine of fouling a certain player early in the game. Is it legal? Yes. Is it outside the spirit of the game? Probably. Teams are intentionally breaking the rules — fouling — for the sheer purpose of making the other team shoot free throws.

verdict: Acceptable

However, in the grand scheme of things, it does feel like a cheap way to try to win. If the strategy works, it's not as if a team has proven it can play the game better than the other one, only that the other team has guys who can't shoot free throws. Then again, if a team doesn't want its worst free-throw shooter shooting free throws, it shouldn't give him the ball.

Punter faking being run into

A punter punts while an opposing player tries to block it. The opposing player barely brushes against the punter, and suddenly the punter looks like he has stepped on 15 banana peels.

verdict: Shady

If the referee falls for such theatrics, then he's a fool. Still, for a player to beg for a call when he wasn't hit seems not only dishonest, but cowardly.

Rear-ending another driver in NASCAR

Suddenly, all the rage in NASCAR is to bump the race leader from behind, spin him out and take the lead. NASCAR has let drivers get away with too much in this area, even in a sport where the motto is "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'. ''

verdict: Troubling

Faking a soccer dive is tiresome, but intentionally bumping a NASCAR driver could be deadly. Rolling around on a field is nothing compared with potentially sending a fellow competitor into a wall at 180 mph.

Calling timeout before a field-goal attempt

A team lines up for a last-second winning field-goal attempt, and just as the ball is about to be snapped, the opposing team calls timeout to throw off the kicker. Why football lets teams get away with this is puzzling. The onus is on the rule, not the teams that take advantage of it. But something needs to be changed because the whole thing feels wrong.

verdict: Frustrating

The rule needs to be changed. How about this: When a team lines up for a field goal, the opponent can call timeout only up until 10 seconds are left on the play clock. A timeout called after that would not be granted. It would end the insanity.

Knocking a hockey goal off the moorings

Occasionally a team is under heavy pressure in its end, and to take the heat out of the kitchen, a goalie or defenseman will, uh, "accidentally'' knock the goal off the moorings, and the whistle is blown. If a referee believes the knockoff was intentional, a penalty is called. But players have become so good at making it look like an accident that a penalty is rarely called.

verdict: Cheating

This is like a basketball team moving its basket because the other team looks like it's going to score.

Stepping out on a pitcher

If I had a dollar for every time the Rays' Carlos Peña steps out on a pitcher, I wouldn't be writing this column. I'd be on the beach of my own little private island. Often pitchers and hitters play a little cat-and-mouse game of making the other wait, and certainly a hitter can't be expected to stand still for 20 seconds while a pitcher shakes off signs. But stepping out quickly or just as a pitcher starts to make his move home is done simply to monkey with a pitcher's mind.

verdict: Annoying. But not over the line. If a hitter does it too much, the umpire will give him grief, or maybe even refuse to grant time. If the hitter continues to get away with it, a pitcher will make the hitter step out quickly with a pitch near the ribs.

Cheating vs. gamesmanship: Expanding the debate 09/18/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 19, 2010 1:11am]
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