It’s not all ‘fun and games’

It’s not all ‘fun and games’

A CSULA sociology professor analyzes cheating in slow-pitch softball

Picture of CSULA Sociology Professor Gretchen Peterson on the baseball field.

CSULA Sociology Professor Gretchen Peterson studies the prevalence and causes for cheating in adult recreational softball leagues.

By definition, adult recreational softball is meant to be
fun. It is an activity that brings adults together after work to “refresh their
strength and spirit,” socialize, exercise, and compete in an enjoyable

Recent research by Cal State L.A.
Sociology Professor
Gretchen Peterson
, however, indicates that this American evening and weekend
pastime may not be all “fun and games.” Peterson discovered that players in many
leagues—especially in California—cheat during slow-pitch softball games and

The most common form of cheating is through the use of
altered bats. Advanced technology, the emergence of titanium and composite bats
and more commonplace know-how have led to a greater number of individuals
tampering or shaving down the inside of their bats so that the ball will fly
farther and faster when hit, she said.  

“The idea of sport as recreation is a dying idea,” Peterson
said. “It’s not just about going out and having fun, but really about
demonstrating your own abilities. People are going to great lengths to win, and
they are doing it all for a softball tournament where the prize is a t-shirt.”

Through personal observation, interviews and a national
online survey Peterson attempts to answer questions about the pervasiveness of
cheating in the sport, ways in which people cheat, why they do so and how they
feel about the act in her research. A culture of “playing to win”—even when
there is serious risk of injury to pitchers and players because of faster flying
balls—has really developed and intensified in the last five to six years, said
Peterson, who is also a regular participant in adult softball leagues. She has
played softball all of her life.

In her survey of more than 1,700 adult recreational
softball players, Peterson found that more than a quarter of the respondents
said they purposely used an altered bat in play. Nearly half of the respondents
also agreed that players who do not use an altered bat are at a disadvantage,
she said.Picture of softball glove and balls on the field.

“The perception of cheating is high,” she said, adding that
most common reasons people cited for cheating were to “level the playing field”
or to respond to a “teammate’s recommendation to do so.”

In her paper, Is it cheating if everyone is doing it?,

Peterson wrote: “Given the prevalence of teammates recommending cheating, it is
apparent that a social context is created where cheating is not viewed as
unacceptable as it might be in the absence of such a social context.” Peterson
herself admitted that she’s gotten “caught up” in the moment and knowingly used
an altered bat in play.

Peterson continues to study the phenomenon and seek out its
roots and implications in further research. She has also studied other issues in
slow-pitch softball, including gendered rules and the act of “going middle,”
where players purposely hit at the opposing team’s pitcher.

“I don’t know which would come first,” she said. “People
are doing it, so we are hearing about types of cheating more often—because
people are very open about it—or they are hearing about it and because of that
more people are motivated to cheat.”

But, what plays out on the field and in the dugout, she
said, could be emblematic of larger issues of cheating and the idea of fairness
in society.