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Guest Column: Is the U.S. a culture of cheaters?

November 7, 2012

By Will Rose

Major League Baseball, cycling, college sports, Wall Street, elections, even the institution of marriage has been barraged by a culture of cheating in the United States.

Half-truths, lying, deceit, unparalleled competition and flawed logic are all key components that have made America a country of liars. We often say one thing, yet do another.

Why is it that America has been a country of untrustworthy reputation? I hope this column can spark a few truths on such a menacing force.

While attending a local high school, I discovered early that there was (and still is) a culture of cheating in our school system. Students who compete for scholarships, high class rank, sports eligibility, acceptance to the college of choice, or high scores on tests often cheated to to reap the benefits of high society.

Not everyone cheated for such benefits. Some cheated to keep their parents off their backs, others because it was so easy.

Whatever the case, cheating throughout high school made it 10 times harder for me at college. When I left high school with a 3.5 grade-point average, I found myself dropping classes at the local junior college — classes I should have been successful in. I had stunted my learning curve, cheated my way through the last two years of high school, and now I was paying the price, literally.

After retaking class after class, I found myself at a standstill, but better yet, an epiphany. I knew it would be hard, but I had to start over. I started taking classes that were hard where I knew I would have to study, complete work on time, challenge my work ethic. I started writing papers that cited more than the minimum requirements, doing extra work in every class, and took extra time to study each night. It paid off. I graduated college knowing I had accomplished a task many people could not without cheating their way through.

I graduated with honors and straight A’s my last year, a modern-day academic Rudy story. It cost me a lot, though. I had to quit work during college many times, and the cost was overbearing with my student loans. I could have been paying them off at the time, but now I am paying at a rate of more than $700 a month.

Although I am paying a huge price for honesty, I feel I did the right thing. I share my story with students I teach at the high school level, and I reward honesty and integrity weekly. Cheating still occurs, but it seems like the conversation makes an impact.

Just recently, we saw Lance Armstrong banned from cycling and his championships revoked because of enhancement drugs. He still denies the truth, a factor where I have lost respect for the man. His motto of “Live Strong” should be banned as well, or changed to “Live Cheating.”

I have to admit, though, finally there is a sport that is willing to deal with cheaters at a level that brings accountability to the sport, and holds dear the thing that makes it sacred, the relationship of fans to their heroes.

Armstrong has essentially told his fans to “go fly a kite.” After hearing him day after day deny the facts, you almost don’t believe the guy had cancer and you question whether anyone in this world is telling the truth.

In politics, we see it every day, and we allow it as citizens. In recent months, Winnebago County Board member and Rock Valley College Board member Ted Biondo has been serving on two boards illegally under state law. He claims it’s perfectly legal (although he is not a lawyer or legal analyst), and the county board he serves has done nothing to address this issue. The State’s Attorney’s Office relayed that they would not step in on the matter, yet they are sworn to the state constitution.

The plot thickens when at a recent “concealed carry” forum, the State’s Attorney’s Office said they would not recommend concealed carry because it breaks state law (although it is backed by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment). Where is the truth in such statements, and when has our society become one of discretionary laws?

Wall Street certainly is not the place we can call upon for truthful debate or accurate accounting. Businesses lying about their profits, banks and accountants inflating their worth, insider trading, inflated housing markets, NINJA loans and Bernie Madoff; I think you get the point.

Billions of dollars stolen each and every day, and we have one guy being held accountable for the largest fall from grace. Don’t get me wrong, Madoff deserved every minute he will rot in prison, but one guy serving major time for the number of middle-class families who are suffering … one guy is behind bars while millions struggle to keep their homes, try to get a car loan, or try to stay afloat from becoming working indentured servants like me with $80,000 in student loans. In the words of ESPN NFL commentators, “Come on, man.”

College sports have seen their fair share of cover-ups and cheating in the last few years. I think they are moving in the right direction, though.

A player like Reggie Bush, former running back of USC, received kickbacks and was stripped of his awards and records. Miami University coaches worked with Nevin Shapiro, a Ponzi scheme felon, to attract players to the school through kickbacks. Their penalty has not been announced, a failure of the NCAA to stop corruption and teams from cheating.

Penn State lost years of records and no bowl games, an economic penalty that will be felt for years. Penn State is the definition of what lying and cheating can do to a program. People have lost faith in them, specifically because their lies protected the worst scum of this world, child molester Jerry Sandusky. I’ve got to tell you, though, they are still playing football (isn’t that more important?).

Marriage statistics probably reveal the worst of the worst within our society. According to foryourmarriage.org, 40 to 50 percent of marriages will fail. We are a society of cheaters, hacks who cannot be faithful to our so-called loved ones. One used to be respected if you stood up for your wife or treated her with dignity. Now, you’re a “pimp” if you sleep around. There was once this idea of chivalry, where men would go out of their way to show a woman, “I want to be with you.” In today’s society, chivalry is misidentified as weakness, or better yet, creepy. Our world has been turned upside down, and not even the power of love can save us now.

So, to finally answer the question “Is America a culture of cheaters?”, I have to conclude yes. If the television show Cheaters doesn’t answer this question sufficiently, I suggest you watch it for its brutal honesty and Jerry Springer-ish circus act.

Where do we go from here, though? A quick remedy is to change the way we do business, schools, sports, taxes, etc. Ethics classes at early ages focusing on honesty might help. I’ve got to tell you, it can’t hurt.

Strict consequences on those who cheat regularly and a strong dose of backbone in our institutions would certainly provide accountability. Most importantly to our families and parents, taking accountability and responsibility for your actions is key for our children to understand that we mean business.

When you catch your kid lying, ground them. When they fib, call it a lie. When they steal, have them take it back to the store and approach the manager with an apology. It worked for me.

Finally, be an example to youth that shortcuts and competition are not always the answer to a happy life, and that good, honest karma is the way to go.

Will Rose is a Loves Park, Ill., resident.

From the Nov. 7-13, 2012, issue

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