You learn about the accuser and the accused, of course, but you also learn about everyone in between reacting to the situation. Those who have a vested interest in the outcome of the cheating tend to either use coded language like “gamesmanship” to describe the action in question (if the cheating benefits them directly or indirectly), or they go to other extremes and ask for punishment not befitting the crime if it does not benefit them (as in, those who called for Bill Belichick to be banned from NFL, or at least the Super Bowl, in the wake of Deflategate).
Neutral parties, though? Those who are a little too righteous might have skeletons in their own closets (the lady doth protest too much, methinks). But usually we get a sense of where they fall on the moral spectrum. Not all cheating is created equal, but at the end of the day, cheating is cheating. How many shades you have in that gray area says a lot about who you are as a person — and in many cases what you will justify either in your own actions or the actions of others in the name of victory or some other gain.
You will invent more coded language (it’s borrowing or a tribute, not stealing) or believe the idea that it’s not cheating unless you get caught. We saw it with Deflategate. Hey, the Patriots routed the Colts. The footballs didn’t matter. Probably, but the outcome doesn’t change the action. If the Patriots deliberately doctored footballs — and at this point we might never know — it’s cheating and it doesn’t matter if the final score was 45-7 or 27-24.
The latest local cheating controversy involves the state dance team competition. At question is whether the team from Faribault, which won the championship, lifted its routine from an out-of-state team. Other teams in the competition believe they did, and protested at the end of the meet. Faribault stands by its routine. “We won it fair and square,” coach Lois Krinke said. “If they didn’t want their second- and third-place medals, I couldn’t care less.”
The protesting teams, who have plenty at stake, are on one extreme. Faribault is on the other. The rest of us are left to check out the facts and decide for ourselves where on the spectrum it falls. Our sense is that society, too, has become far more extreme in its reactions to these cases. And the more gray area that creeps in, the further apart those extremes become.