The NYT continues the ongoing discussion of Lance Armstrong’s alleged doping, in this case looking specifically at the impact it would have on his activism and philanthropy in the fight against cancer if he were found to have been lying: Some Fear Armstrong Inquiry Will Taint Charity.
I was especially interested in this passage:
Jay Coakley, a sociologist and the author of “Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies,” said that he had no doubt that Mr. Armstrong was guilty of doping, but that it did not matter. For athletes, he said, the line between performance enhancement and medical treatment has become so fuzzy that it is impossible to discern.
“Deciding to use performance-enhancing substances and methods has nothing to do with lack of morality,” Mr. Coakley said. “It has to do with normative structure of elite sport, and the athlete’s commitment to his identity as an athlete.”
I don’t have any personal knowledge as to whether or not Armstrong used illicit doping during his career. But overall, I think the explanation that there is, in fact, a high-level conspiracy among elite cyclists to conceal the extent of doping in the sport, and that Armstrong’s statements over the years have been carefully calibrated to avoid exposure to perjury charges should the truth come out (“I’m the most-tested athelete in the world”, “I’ve never failed a test”, etc.), appears more likely to me than the competing explanation: that professional cycling is essentially “clean”, with a few outliers like Floyd Landis being exceptions rather than typical.
Or, more briefly, I think Armstrong is probably lying, and Landis is probably telling the truth, at least about whether or not Armstrong doped while on the US Postal Service team. But the evidence I’ve seen is fairly inconclusive as to specifics, and my belief has more to do with the overall context of professional sports, and the relationship between money and performance when even the tiniest advantage can have huge financial consequences.
I’m normally pretty resistant to conspiracy theories. But in this case, the situation seems tailor-made to nurture an actual conspiracy, with strong financial incentives both to cheat in the first place and to engage in a conspiracy to conceal the prevalence of cheating afterwards. To have a whistleblower you pretty much need what we have with Landis: Someone who knows he’s out of the sport, and really doesn’t care anymore, and has enough of an ego to be willing to make himself even more of a pariah by going public. The only piece missing is the smoking-gun evidence that a whistleblower trying to take down a huge commercial enterprise pretty much has to have in order to weather the storm of countercharges that are the predictable result.
Update: Fairly hilarious: Lance Armstrong Wants To Tell Nation Something But Nation Has To Promise Not To Get Mad.