Lance Armstrong, Ashley Madison, and That Guy Who Writes Your College Papers: Great Stories About Cheating

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Aug. 25 2012 5:30 AM

The Longform Guide to Cheaters

Lance Armstrong, Ashley Madison, and the MIT blackjack team—great stories about cheating.

Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong elected not to enter an arbitration process with the USADA, leading the organization to give Armstrong a lifetime ban from cycling.

Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.

In honor of Lance Armstrong finally giving up, Melky Cabrera’s hilariously insane scheme to get out of a steroid suspension, and the poor Scrabble-tile-palming kid in Orlando, here’s a collection of stories from our archive about all sorts of cheats.

The Long Ride
Michael Specter • New Yorker • July 2002

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Just over a decade ago, Specter set out to answer this question: How did Lance Armstrong manage the greatest comeback in sports history?

“Because Armstrong is the best cyclist in the world, there is an assumption among some of those who follow the sport that he, too, must use drugs. Armstrong has never failed a drug test, however, and he may well be the most frequently examined athlete in the history of sports. Whenever he wins a day’s stage, or finishes as one of the top cyclists in a longer race, he is required to provide a urine sample. Like other professionals, Armstrong is also tested randomly throughout the year. (The World Anti-Doping Agency, which regularly tests athletes, has even appeared at his home, in Austin, Texas, at dawn, to demand a urine sample.) Nobody questions Armstrong’s excellence. And yet doubts remain: is he really so gifted that, like Secretariat, he easily dominates even his most talented competitors?

‘It’s terribly unfair,’ Bruyneel told me as we drove through the mountains. ‘He is already winning, and is extremely fit. Still, people always ask that one question: How can he do this without drugs? I understand why people ask, because our sport has been tainted. But Lance has a different trick, and I have watched him do it now for four years: he just works harder than anyone else alive.’”

The Shadow Scholar
Ed Dante • Chronicle • July 2012

An academic ghostwriter explains his trade.

“I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.”

Problems in a Turned-On World
Bil Gilbert • Sports Illustrated • June 1969

In 1969, the sports establishment was wrestling with whether to embrace performance-enhancing drugs, decry them, or look the other way.

“Among the less startling assertions one could make today would be that we live in a drug culture. The vast majority of us gobble an aspirin here, gulp an antibiotic there, whiff a decongestant now or a few milligrams of nicotine then. We take a little opiate in our cough syrup, a jab of Novocain from the dentist, caffeine to start the day, alcohol to mellow it and a sedative to blank it out at bedtime. However, after it has been admitted that most citizens dope themselves from time to time, there remain excellent grounds for claiming that in the matter of drug usage, athletes are different from the rest of us. In spite of being—for the most part—young, healthy and active specimens, they take an extraordinary variety and quantity of drugs (see cover). They take them for dubious purposes, they take them in a situation of debatable morality, they take them under conditions that range from dangerously experimental to hazardous to fatal. The use of drugs—legal drugs—by athletes is far from new, but the increase in drug usage in the last 10 years is startling. It could, indeed, menace the tradition and structure of sport itself.”

Cheating, Incorporated
Sheelah Kolhatkar • Businessweek • February 2011

AshleyMadison.com and the business of infidelity.

“After spending several years as a sports agent at Chicago's Interperformances, Biderman founded Ashley Madison in 2002, naming the company after the two most popular names for baby girls that year. A large chunk of his work as an agent involved helping professional basketball players juggle their wives and mistresses, so when he read somewhere that 30 percent of users of Internet dating services were pretending to be single when they weren't, a light went on, pointing the way to an underserved online niche market. What would happen, Biderman thought, if cheaters had a website all their own?”

Hacking Las Vegas
Ben Mezrich • Wired • September 2002
The story of the MIT Blackjack Team.

“To the casinos, there's no difference between legal card counters like Lewis, who use their brains to beat the game, and the brash, increasingly high tech cheaters who steal tens of millions of dollars from the resorts every year. In response, the casinos have developed equally sophisticated means of identifying, tracking, and eliminating their enemies: i.e., anyone who doesn't consistently lose.

‘It's Robin Hood against the Sheriff,’ Lewis says, summing it up as we wait with the Vegas-bound crowd. It's an interesting analogy, yet it falls severely short. In this story Robin Hood is stealing from the rich to give to himself. And the sheriff has a thousand eyes, covering every inch of the sky.”

All the Answers
Charles Van Doren • New Yorker • July 2008

A quiz show scandal and its aftermath, as told by its star.

“I continued to appear on ‘Twenty-One’ until March 11, 1957. During those four months, Freedman never stopped coaching me, and I came to see just how carefully controlled the show was. In our sessions, he would ask me questions, I would answer them—and then he would tell me how to answer them: pause here; add this or that remark or aside; always seem to be worried, anxious; never answer too quickly, let the suspense build up. One January night, I was asked to give the nicknames of several Second World War airplanes, and in February I was asked to name the seven Prime Ministers of Britain between the world wars. A critic later wrote that mine ‘was a remarkable and seductive performance.’ Toward the end, my face appeared on the cover of Time (with earphones superimposed on my head), and I was seen in public with movie starlets (the dates were arranged by Barry and Enright); a couple of women found out where I lived and came to my door.”

Chasing Jose
Pat Jordan • Deadspin • March 2008

There are enough stories about steroids in baseball to fill an entire collection. But there’s only one story about steroids and trying to interview a down-and-out Jose Canseco.

“Rob got Taco Bell to ante up $25,000, plus residuals, for Jose to star in a TV commercial in which Jose would hold up a huge burrito and say, “This thing’s gotta be on something.” Jose demanded $50,000 instead and Taco Bell walked. Rob also got Jose an offer of $100,000 from GoldenPalace.com, which would require Jose simply to wear that company’s t-shirt and cap whenever he was on TV. Jose demanded $200,000 and Golden Palace walked. Then, Rob got Jose an offer of $75,000 from a reality TV show that wanted to film Jose in a wheelchair for thirty days. Jose demanded more, and the TV show vanished. Finally, Rob got Jose an offer of $500,000 for a movie based on his life, but Jose demanded $1.5 million and the offer vanished.”

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

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