O how the mighty has fallen — off his bike.

Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France cycling titles and banned for life from sanctioned Olympic events.  Nike, Trek, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley and several other sponsors have dropped him. Furthermore, Lance has stepped down as the chairman of Livestrong, the cancer-awareness charity he founded 15 years ago after surviving testicular cancer.

Why? Armstrong and his teams used steroids, the blood booster EPO and blood transfusions to help them win the Tour de France. They cheated and lied their way to victory.

USADA’s recent report on Armstrong says the now-retired rider was involved in the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”  The evidence from his teammates is that the cyclist not only used banned drugs but bullied others into using them too.

Lance made us proud; now he has made us sad, mad, perhaps more cynical or just numb.

Lance’s losses are big time. He can’t be having fun these days. He had the big rides, he had the adrenaline rush of being the big star, he made cycling history, but the memories and accomplishments are tainted now. They were illegally won. Well, one might muse, he still has the big money that came with the big wins, but even the cash may now be may be at risk. Legal experts say Armstrong may be sued, and that coming clean with a confession could make him even more vulnerable to civil or criminal actions.

So many conclusions can be drawn from this saga and will be over the next few years. Certainly one is this: members of a group sometimes collectively engage in risky, potentially ruinous behavior in order to achieve a desired end. In such groups, a culture develops in which everyone participates in a cover up and a lie. They agree to lie and cheat to win.

How does this happen?

Well, for one thing, group members may buy into that old, trite but highly useful rationalization.  “Everybody is doing it.”

Such group think was most likely a factor for Lance’s riders. The logic was, “We have to dope because all the other contenders are doing it. We have to drug up just to level the playing field, just to have a chance to win.” But at that fork in the road, where one chooses to pedal the shady route or not, that is precisely where each cyclist’s personal responsiblity comes into play.  To fall in with the collective mindset, to decide to push a doped pedal, that was an individual choice for each rider. Why make such a choice? Perhaps it worked like this in their heads:”It’s worth the risk for the chance to win, and with the good doctor’s help, we aren’t likely to get caught.” How did that work out for them? They did win, but they got caught, winning unfairly, and stripped of honors.

It seems clichéd these days to say there was and always is the option in sport to stay clean, to refuse the rationalization, to go for it, fair and square. There was; there is. But, in cycling,  in Lance’s era, clean may have meant  that you simply couldn’t win a race like the Tour de France. It’s sad, but it may have meant that clean, you had to go compete somewhere else, and ride at a lower level. That’s hard, for a “winner’s” mentality, but it’s a good choice for a guilt-free mentality.

Secondly, on Lance’s team, some of the riders seem to have been coerced, intimidated and even threatened to go along with the cheat. You were in or you were out. You doped or you were noped. And worse, there might have been the mindset that if you finked, if you talked and tried to expose the thing, Lance would come after you. There is evidence that Armstrong  used the strong-arm.


Everybody who doped should own that. They did it. They knew it was illegal.  It’s on them. If they lost their wins, it was their fault. If they lost their reputations, they did it to themselves. If they lose their money — on them too. Lots of loss, but not just individual loss. We lost too, the fans, along with the riders. We lost our heroes, perhaps our trust in winners, perhaps our faith in clean sport, but still they lost more. We didn’t lose one thing they lost: along the way, they lost their integrity. If we are still honest, in what we do, then we haven’t lost that. And for those who have lost integrity, some of it is regained just by coming clean. It doesn’t change the past, but it might change the future. Honesty still makes a good mental insurance policy.

And as for the  team coaches, the team doctors and the lead riders, like Armstrong, who mandated and pushed a doping culture, they operated at another, even more culpable level. It is one thing to cheat; it is another to encourage and or mandate others to cheat. Harm yourself, not good, harm others, worse. Harm others to protect your own lies — that’s a pretty nasty life to live, and live with. To have ruined people to get what you wanted, that changes you, somehow, and not in a good way.

Sports, business, politics, entertainment — this isn’t new, cheating and lying. We’ve seen this before. Cheat, harm, lie, drag others into your scheme, attack, get caught, stonewall. People won’t always live strong; they’ll live wrong. Lance Armstrong did.

I’m not cynical. My conclusions do not include the overreaction, “You can’t trust anyone anymore.”  You can, but this will happen again. And  then again, thankfully — it will not.

Some people won’t cheat, they won’t lie, and they won’t harm others. And some of them will win, out of sheer hard work, practice, skill and fierce determination. And if they don’t win,  they will at least have a clear conscience, and in the end, that has more satisfaction in it than a stripped title.

I’m still rooting. I’m rooting for legit.

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