"Cheaters never win and winners never cheat." Yeah, right.

Cheaters are victorious all the time. Just look around. In sports, business or government, the cheaters are often the guys on top.

But before everyone cheats and skips to the end of the article, let's define a cheater. For me a cheater is one who creates, bends or breaks the rules in their favor to the disadvantage of others for some prize. What then is a winner? A winner is a person who gets what he or she wants.

In sports, cheating is easy to define but getting tougher to detect. The obvious is the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But we also have seen the current fury over the probably underage Chinese gymnasts, or the historical meticulously nationally sanctioned and organized drug-sport factory by the East Germans that would make Merck seem like a junior chemistry set. We also have the blatant corruption of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow with marks changed and Olympic officials forced to exit events, leaving only the Soviets to judge the outcome.

That is not to say we lovers of freedom haven't had our own scoundrels. The names of former Olympian Marion Jones, now in jail, or baseball star Barry Bonds, who probably should be in jail, come to mind. On that note there is a certain tragedy that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the holy shrine of the sandlot sport of our children, has a homerun baseball with an asterisk on it.

The cheaters in business to me are the ever-increasing numbers of CEOs and upper management with the ever-increasing disparity between their salaries and bonuses and the work they do. This extends to the gap between their take-home pay and the money paid to the average worker.

But you say, they follow the rules therefore they are not cheaters. For me, it is also in the creation of the rules in their favor in the first place that they participate in the scheming. The pages of any business section are replete with stories of bosses who run their institutions into the ground but walk away with their millions in bonuses or some escape clause painted gold.

Think subprime mortgages, think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Think oil or commodity speculators. Think how the tax system has been crafted to reduce rates for the wealthiest few. Think about non-bid governmental contracts. Think about stock options and escalating salaries and declining stocks.

The cheaters in relationships are also in the news, especially when it involves someone promoting himself as an instrument of righteousness running for the presidency of the United States. Infidelity, by definition, is cheating. At least two people break the rules of civility, trust, contractual marital vows and human bonds. Therefore to worry about the post-coital honesty is silly. There is dishonesty throughout the whole exercise. But there are also a lot of cheaters who may be sleeping monogamously, but who do it serially with divorce and abandonment.

There are the others who promote irresponsible and selfish behavior by shows and stories. They are advantaged in film and fame and fortune by selling sleazy sex. The rules they are bending are the same society rules of honesty by portraying corruption in relationships as the norm or exciting, without the consequences of hurt and harm to everyone involved.

The history of cheating in government goes back to the first ballot box in Babylon stuffed with sun-dried clay tablets. Buying elections are not new, but purchasing landslides have become too expensive. So, sadly we have come to not expect politicians to keep their word on their personal term limits, balanced budgets, invading foreign lands or even obeying the laws already on the books. We are cheating our children and our nation if we tolerate their self-centered rule creation, bending and breaking.

So who are the real winners and losers in this world? Right now it seems the cheaters are winning.

Yet, everyday ordinary folks go about their daily lives being nice to their neighbors, going to work, putting in an honest day of labor when it is available, coming home to a good family and obeying the rules all along the way. They are winners in their spheres if they are satisfied with their lives. That is the prize: contentment. Maybe that is why ordinary people are not gold medalists, CEOs or senators. It is not a lack of effort, talent or ability. They have already won. They are the true champions. They just didn't have to cheat to get the prize.


Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected]