ESPN reported tonight that Lance Armstrong will be banned for life from cycling by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. This news comes on the heels of news that Armstrong has given up his fight against drug-use accusations. Said Armstrong:
The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today -- finished with this nonsense.
We may never know with certainty what happened. Armstrong claims that he is giving in but is still innocent. Many people will continue to believe that he is guilty of PED use. The fact of the matter is that as far as his legacy is concerned—particularly in America—this will not matter a whole lot.
USADA does not have clean hands
While USADA can attempt to sully Armstrong's name, he will continue to have millions of supporters. USADA itself will have its own moral superiority questioned. A big part of that questioning will be directed at why Armstrong has been such a prime target after passing all of the drug tests he has been given. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote (via ESPN):
USADA's conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.
The belief some have that USADA is on a mission against Armstrong—whether or not it is true—undermines the entire investigation. It is widely believed that many top cyclists used drugs and that Armstrong was keeping up with the pack rather than getting an unfair advantage.
Armstrong will always be synonymous with cycling greatness
USADA is officially stripping Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. However, with the action taking place so retroactively, it is unclear if the gesture means much. Armstrong is viewed as the greatest cyclist of all time, especially in the United States.
Will American audiences stop thinking of Armstrong as the greatest in the sport? Probably not.
From an American perspective, Lance Armstrong is bigger than the sport of cycling. It is possible that the doping scandal will detract from the future of the sport more than it will from Armstrong's fame and legacy.
As five-time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil said:
Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.
In a sport so politicized and full of drug scandals, the greatest and most inspiring hero the sport has ever seen will remain a hero in the hearts of millions, regardless of official actions.