Diamond (2020) dwells about the “Codebreaker” scandal of 2016-2017 with the Houston Astros baseball team. Though there are many speculations and suggestions, it is hard to know all details for sure. The article tells readers about the cheating formula created by some of the Astros’ team members and staff. It was one of the biggest cheating schemes in the modern history of American sports. The Major Baseball League (MBL) was informed that the Astros developed a “banging scheme” (Diamond, 2020). During the game, some players stayed in their home dugout. They observed the live feed on the installed monitors and transmitted pitch information in the real-time mode to the hitters.

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Why is it known as a banging scheme? The name was driven by how the players informed the hitters, i.e., they slammed a trash can with a bat. The slam was made in a specific code that could be decoded only with the ‘Codebreaker.’ It was an Excel-based application to decode the rival teams’ signals to the catchers. The code-stealing routine was accidentally discovered by the Chicago White Sox pitcher, Danny Farquhar. The banging noises from the Astros’ dugout caught his attention. The MBL investigation proved the use of the banging scheme as an attempt to improve the team’s performance. Some of the coaches lost their jobs, and the players had to find the other teams to represent. Without surprise, the performance of the top players had somewhat declined in the new teams. This scandal became one of the largest in the MBL history.

Though cheating is no news to sports, some of the cheating schemes can be used even to inspire movies. Some of them actually did; for example, the “I, Tonya” movie described the unethical and inhumane moments of the U.S. figure skating championship, when Tonya Harding was accused of hiring a man to break the leg of her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. However, another situation caught my attention and reminded me of the Houston Astros scandal. In 2007, New England’s Patriots got mixed up in the ‘Spygate’ scandal (Davis, 2015). The Spygate scandal is an example of systematic cheating in the National Football League (NFL). The Patriot’s coach, Bill Belichick, and his team invented a way to overcome the other teams and stop losing games. Their decision was simple and genius – to videotape the signals of their future opponents for analysis and to break their codes. This ideology made the Spygate and the Banging scheme cheating scandals quite similar because the only thing that interested the teams was to break the code to ensure victory for themselves.

Patriots sent their scouts to the games of their future opponents, where those advanced scouts filmed the teams’ play signals (Davis, 2015). No one knew that scouts represented Patriots. They tried to disguise themselves as press, producing credentials for “Kraft Productions” and “Patriots TV.” However, sometimes security had questions to them about the filming, but the home-prepared answers helped to sort out the situation. The videos had three situations in them: the down and distance followed by the signal and finalized with a close-up of a cheerleader’s skirt or top (Davis, 2015). The videotapes were transported to Belichick’s assistant, Ernie Adams, who edited them, matching the play calls with the shown signals and action on the field. Patriots created a big library with profiles for many of their opponent teams. These materials were used to boost the Patriots’ performance, and effectiveness like it was with the Houston Astros.

Though the Houston Astros and Patriots have the similar objectives of their cheating, the Patriots have come too far compared to the Astros. The Patriots sent their low-level employees to the visiting locker rooms to steal play sheets (Davis, 2015). It was done during the pre-game period when the visitors were warming up. However, the visiting coaches soon understood the cheating scheme and started to put the fake play sheets when they were absent from the locker rooms. Another cheating move from the Patriots was to send their employees to get the scouting reports and steal their playbooks from the visitors’ hotel rooms. Finally, Patriots even messed with the opponents’ communication systems, jamming the frequencies and interfering with the radio signal of the visitors’ headsets. The Patriots got so notorious for their cheating and stealing attempts that coaches of the visiting teams preferred to discuss their tactics for the game outside the locker rooms because they figured that this area might be bugged (Davis, 2015). The Patriots were reported for filming teams when one of the Patriots’ employees was caught red-handed filming the New York Jets. The investigators shredded all materials in Belichick’s library, banning Patriots’ for four games and imposing a fine on the team.

Some things that remained unexplained to the public and the readers of the article. The major question was why the punishment for cheating for the Patriots was so mild? Belichick claimed that the Patriots filmed only eight tapes, and no one checked whether it was really so. Another issue that remained unexplained was whether the attempts of cheating, like taping the other teams’ signals and decoding them through an app to improve individual performance, could be understood as a simple misinterpretation of the rules? As for me, it was a deliberate action in both cheating scandals. However, it remains unclear why the NFL and the MBL decided to minimize the impact of the scandalous incidents. Regardless of the objective, cheating in sports remains cheating, which is an illegal action. Therefore, the Patriots and the Houston Astros should have been severely punished.

  • Davis, S. (2015, September 8). Bombshell ESPN report says Patriots’ ‘Spygate’ scandal was way worse than people realized. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/espn-report-patriots-spygate-scandal-2015-9
  • Diamond, J. (2020, February 13). Rule breaking permeated the Astros – Houston’s front office created ‘Codebreaker’ for the purpose of decoding signs. The players took it from there. Wall Street Journal. http://ezproxy.umgc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/docview/2353921307?accountid=14580