Racing is always attacked from all sides whenever the subject of integrity is broached. I contend that, despite its flaws, it’s the best policed game in the world of sports. And it’s precisely because the betting on it is legal.

Fans have recently learned that major sports--upon which there is much illegal wagering-- might be the real culprits in the cheater‘s arenas.

We know, for instance, that at least one NBA referee cheats. New York Giants manager Leo Durocher was legendary for taking a cheater’s edge. With a pair of field glasses he raised the practice of sign stealing to an art form.

Just ask any remaining living member of those Brooklyn Dodgers baseball teams of the 1950s.

And now we know for sure that the eminently dislikable Bill Belichick--recall his disingenuous congratulatory handshake with Peyton Manning following last year’s Super Bowl and his boorish press conferences nearly every week--doesn’t place sportsmanship high on his to-do list.

So now Belichick joins the ranks of cheaters for having stolen defensive signals in his season opening victory over a hated divisional rival and former assistant coach, Eric “Mangenius,” of the New York Jets.

The most condemning aspect in L’affaire Belichick is that he went high tech to do it. Indeed, it’s a lot easier to put a hat on a blitzing linebacker when you know he’s coming off the weak side so that you can isolate your best receiver in man coverage.

But that doesn’t insure victory for the cheater. “King Football,” so-called because it attracts more wagering than any other sport, illegal or otherwise, and is, arguably more than any other sport, about one thing: Execution.

Just because you know exactly what’s coming doesn’t mean you automatically can do anything about it. Just ask a remaining living member of any defensive unit that tried to stop the Green Bay Packers’ power sweep in the 1960s.

Call me cynical but I regard sign stealing--by definition, cheating--as little more than advanced gamesmanship. What makes signal stealing any different from putting footballs in a freezer to deaden them, or over-watering the playing field?

What about supplying sneakers to the home team in the second half after the tundra actually froze? The Giants beat the Bears in a title game that way.

Commissioner Roger Goodell did a good job doling out punishment. Maybe $250,000 is a drop in the corporate bucket, but a half million dollars is a lot of money for any coach. It really hurts and that’s all it needs to do.

The loss of a first round draft pick can punish even a playoff team for years, as would the loss of a second and third round choice for a non-playoff outfit.

Belichick’s punishment goes beyond money. His legacy, should he win one more championship, would have been assured, given the nature of a singular achievement. Instead, he always will be the coach who cheated. Then there’s the matter of looking his own and other children in the eye, punishment sure to last a lifetime.

Goodell’s sentence was strong and commensurate with the crime. A forfeit in a 16-game season would have been over the top, punishing many innocent players along with a guilty coach.

The New England Patriots beat the New York Jets handily last week not because they took an edge but because they were, and are, the superior football team. Perhaps Belichick should have been fined one more penny. What were you thinking, coach?