The United States Anti-Doping Agency has released its case file supporting its conclusions that Lance Armstrong engaged in doping throughout his cycling career, during which he won the Tour de France seven times and became one of the world’s most celebrated athletes. According to USADA’s “Reasoned Decision,” Armstrong enforced a doping culture within his racing team, creating a picture per The New York Times of “an infamous cheat, a defiant liar and a bully who pushed others to cheat with him so he could succeed.”
USADA launched its case against Armstrong in June 2012, prompting unsuccessful attempts by Armstrong to block the agency through federal lawsuits. In August 2012, Armstrong waived his rights to arbitrate the findings, in essence surrendering as the agency then stripped his wins including his history-making Tour de France victories and banned him from cycling.
The Armstrong saga has played in slow motion over recent years as the drumbeat of doping accusations grew louder. USADA’s summer actions were almost anticlimactic. Armstrong had retired. Nine of the last 14 Tour de France winners had lost their titles due to doping discoveries. The three baseball players who held the top six tallies for single season home runs–Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa–had all beaten Maris and Ruth’s venerable records on steroids. Alex Rodriguez had looked Katie Couric and America in the eye to say he had always been clean, only to recant when his positive tests for steroids became public. And Tiger Woods, Armstrong’s rival in global fame, sport dominance, and reverence for his charity work had been exposed as a cheater of a different kind.
USADA’s Reasoned Decision is compelling in its vastness (approximately 1,000 pages), its evidence, and its presentation of testimony from a who’s who in cycling. Far from an anticlimax, it has stirred a jaded sport, media and public. Throughout the USADA’s investigation and disclosures, Armstrong has called the agency’s actions a “charade,” “witchhunt” and “unconstitutional.” His rebuttals unfortunately recall Jerry Sandusky’s insistence that he was railroaded in the face of copious and consistent testimony about his crimes.
Also like Sandusky, Armstrong’s collapse represents institutional as well as personal failure. Schools, teams, leagues, fellow athletes and entire sports have protected their own in the name of “avoiding bad PR.” This is impossible. Bad PR is relentless. Some stave it off longer than others (e.g., Arnold Schwarzennegger and his secret son) but it will eventually envelop the swiftest, strongest and most exalted. That’s because individuals and institutions make their own PR, good and bad. In the end, only Lance Armstrong could overtake himself.
POSTSCRIPT: Nike, Trek Bicycles, RadioShack, and Anheuser-Busch InBev drop Lance Armstrong as a spokesman.