The Zak Zone

Sitting around the dinner table at a family dinner hosted by my grandparents Sunday afternoon, the topic of cheating came up.

Despite the different sports news surrounding cheating lately, though, it wasn't any of the NFL scandals that brought the topic to the forefront. In fact, I was the culprit.

I was telling a story about my brother chasing me through the front yard when we were children after a game of baseball went wrong, playing the victim card quite well. My family knows me too well, though, and my aunt asked, "Well, how badly were you cheating to cause him to do that?"

Confession time: As a child, I was known for bending the rules, pushing the limits, changing the rules and, sometimes, flat out breaking the rules if that was what it took to win.

I've mentioned before that my brother was a better athlete than I was, and to eliminate his advantage, I did what I believe we are naturally programmed to do: I cheated.

But all those times I was told by my family members that "cheaters never win, and winners never cheat," it eventually sank in, and as I grew up, I learned that a victory without the stain of cheating feels so much better.

So, today, I rarely if ever — see how I covered myself there — cheat, and I've turned that lesson into one I try my hardest to practice in life situations outside of sports, as well.

Fortunately for me, as I know I may be prone to the temptation, the temptation which lies ahead of me to cheat doesn't have high stakes.

In a world driven by money that pays its professional athletes so well, big money sports have big temptations for athletes and organizations, and lately, no professional league has been immune to the controversies that come with the temptations.

The NFL has been in the brightest spotlight of late with the Saints' "bounty" scandal — in fact, as I'm writing this column, I am hearing news on the television that four Saints' players have been suspended for the ordeal. And more recently, their alleged wire-tapping scandal has brought them into the undesired spotlight again.

While the two allegations came against the same team, they have very different reasons for being so controversial.

The bounty ordeal, while taken very seriously by the league — and rightfully so — didn't directly affect the competitive nature of the game.

Still, despite arguments that "every team has a similar program," or "football players have been doing these things for years," the league has specifically said this is something that is against the rules.

In fact, it's against the rules for a coach to use a reward system similar to one a parent would use with a child. Offering your son or daughter $10 to hit a home run in their Little League game is perfectly acceptable and a kind gesture. But offering $10 for a touchdown catch in the NFL violates the league's policy.

So, a policy that seems legitimate in terms has been made against the rules by the league, because it realized the potential for the snowball effect it could have — and did have.

On the other hand, the hot topic with the wire-tapping allegations has been, "Even if the Saints were listening in to the other team's sideline communications, there is no way it could have given them a 'competitive edge.'"

Competitive edge has been a phrase that has been tearing up the air waves, but the truth of the matter is, it doesn't matter.

Whether it gives one a competitive edge or not, wire-tapping is against the NFL rules. In other words, it is cheating.

Cheating in my backyard baseball game didn't really have any lasting effects or consequences. But those adults who caught me cheating still told me it was wrong, because they realized that, while kids cheat sometimes, the effects of it snowballing can be a dangerous thing in "the real world."

Professional sports are a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone, and the consumers who pay their hard-earned money to fund these operations expect their team, and their team's opponents, to play by the rules.

It's not just football, either.

In Major League Baseball, the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) has been an issue that has long haunted the commisioner for allowing it to go as far as it did before more stringent testing came along. Whether you like the PED policy or not, players who have been using them to advance their performance have been cheating.

And in the NHL, suspensions have haunted the entire season, and especially the playoffs, as the players try to learn what a dirty hit is, and others simply ignore the rules and make dirty hits repeatedly.

So, in a world that sees and hears about so much cheating, how do we teach the kids growing up — ones who idolize these athletes in their favorite sports — that cheating isn't the best way?

I suppose the best answer is to handle it the way those who caught me doing it when I was younger did: Remind them it's wrong, tell them winning without cheating feels so much better, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, the adage we heard growing up that "cheaters never win, and winners never cheat," is only half true.

Sometimes, cheaters do get away with breaking the rules and they win... But that doesn't make them winners.

Winners never cheat, and as long as we continue to teach that lesson to the children of our community, the message will shine through.

Let's do our part to teach the lesson and hope it sticks.