I was in Cub Scouts as a kid. Made it all the way to Webelos earning badges along the way. But then I got shamed out of the pack for protesting too loudly when one of the pack members cheated in a game of kickball organized by the den mother. The kid moved to second base after one of his own players struck out at the plate. Stealing bases was not allowed in kickball.
So I pointed out that fact, and the kid who stole second refused to admit it. So I raised a fuss and refused to pitch the kickball to the next player. The den mother yanked me out of the game and told me to go home. I never went back.
Sense of social justice
Even at a young age, I had well-developed sense of social justice. One of the values I learned early on was that playing fairly was important. Cheating was something I refused to tolerate. The other personal quality you learn from those values is how to establish those parameters with everyone you meet. And how to lead.
So getting kicked out of Cub Scouts for “fighting” (as the den mother branded it) was a cogent lesson in the fact not all adults could or should be trusted to uphold moral values. But it also provided motivation to prevent dishonesty from ruling the day.
I recognized these things early in life but am also not a perfect human being. Through many years of athletic competition I was largely honorable in my conduct. But anger sometimes entered the picture, especially when losing––the other thing I deeply hated in life. Occasionally I lost my cool or resorted to ugly gamesmanship. But that’s still different than outright cheating. But perhaps not much more honorable.
Not a perfect person
So I’ll never claim to be the perfect sportsman, much less a perfect person. But the sport of distance running that I chose as a primary pursuit through college was not a discipline at which it was easy to cheat. You either ran faster than the other competitors, or you didn’t. Oh sure, some real scoundrels have found ways to cheat, and still do. They take shortcuts. Use drugs. Catch a train or bus to the finish line.
I never really wanted to actually cheat to win. I too much enjoyed the world of distance running precisely because it was “hard, clean and severe”––to quote writer Kenny Moore. Along the way I was blessed to win my share of races. And by the time I was in my mid-twenties had earned a reputation as a good journeyman distance runner on the local road race circuit. But by 1985 I was feeling like it was time to hang up the racing flats, get married and start a family.
That summer, on the advice from some friends, I accepted a job as a District Executive with a local council of the Boy Scouts of America. “You’ll love it,” they told me. “The winter months are pretty busy but the summer’s are relaxed.”
That sounded like a good deal. So I signed on and was sent to a three-week intensive training program called NEI (National Executives’ Institute) down in Irving, Texas. There they talked plenty about the importance of virtue, values and hard work.
But when I got back to the local council and studied the membership records for the council and district, I noticed there was something amiss in the fact that some of the packs and troops essentially consisted of “ghost” memberships. That meant entry fees had been paid for kids who weren’t truly enrolled in the program. In other words, some District Executives were cheating.
I raised that issue with the Field Director and was immediately told never to mention it again. Not long after that I learned that funding from the local United Way was dependent on serving a certain number of youth. If numbers dropped, that funding would go away.
So I was told that the numbers in my district definitely had to be met or there would be consequences to pay. I raised that issue with some fellow DEs that I thought were friends and no one was willing to discuss the subject. It was all hush-hush.
In other words, the council was cheating in many respects and everyone was playing along. But rather than cheat and falsify membership numbers, I took the initiative to start an Explorer troop and get high school kids signed up. I found a friend in the district to help and even attended their activities. It took tons more time on top of the school visits, evening meetings and weekend events I was already required to attend, but I was determined not to start out my work life by cheating.
It ultimately didn’t matter. My inquiries with the field director and staff had made me a target of suspicion about being too honest. They didn’t want me to blow the lid off the scam. So they conspired to trump up some volunteer complaints about me and then threatened punishment. After two years of trying to make things work in an honest fashion, I finally left the Boy Scouts when I land a job in newspaper advertising sales.
But the realization that an organization that was supposed to be a pillar of conservative values and tradition could be so corrupt truly sickened me. Yet I’ve seen the pattern repeat itself time and again over the decades. People present a righteous front while scheming and scamming behind the scenes to get money or power or position in life.
It’s all so different than the raw honesty of running. But through those experiences, you really do develop an ability to spot the phonies and liars from miles away. Perhaps it’s a matter of participating in the cut-and-dried reality of distance running. It’s a perspective you develop through uncompromising effort and making no excuses for the outcomes.
In any case, the distaste for cheaters lives on. You can imagine right now how I feel about so much that is going on in this world. How do you feel about it?