So, the news just hit the wires only a few scant hours ago: Lance Armstrong has given up his legal battle, choosing not to go before an arbitrator and accepting sanctions. Those sanctions are quite heavy, stripping him of his seven Tour de France titles, a lifetime ban from cycling and the loss of his 2000 Olympics bronze medal.
Armstrong was quoted in an interview with the Associated Press saying (via ESPN):
"I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. 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."
To be fair, there is always the possibility that Lance, who has maintained his innocence, is telling the truth. Let us all keep that in mind, before persecuting him. Considering the stress, emotional strain and financial cost to maintain his innocence through years of courtroom drama, it may truly be that Armstrong is simply tired.
Considering that the federal case investigating doping claims against Armstrong during his Tour de France dominance was dropped earlier this year, it is possible that Lance really was the greatest cyclist to ever wear a helmet.
It may also be that there was a great effort to cover up any cheating, considering the USADA's charges against Lance cite various cyclists' testimonies and positive blood samples from 2009 and 2010.
But we aren't here to discuss the legalities or details of Lance Armstrong's plight. We're here to discuss the plight of sport in general.
The news of Armstrong's doping sanctions comes on the heels of two recent suspensions in Major League Baseball. Both Bartolo Colón of the Oakland Athletics and Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants have recently been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
If, in fact, the USADA is right and Lance Armstrong is guilty, then he is no different than either Colón or Cabrera.
The question that I pose, with respect to the big picture in sports, is this: What is the lesson we are teaching the next generation?
Chew on this: If athletes can find ways to circumvent drug policies, either by using cutting edge supplements or masking agents, to up their performance and play at a higher level, what is their reward? What is their consequence?
The reward is easy. Money. Regardless of the sport, the motivation to cheat will almost always be based around money.
For a Major League Baseball player in a financial environment that includes large guaranteed contracts, the ideology is simple: up my performance enough to get a bigger contract.
If an Olympic sport athlete (like cyclists Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis or Alberto Contador) tests positive for PEDs, the results typically come after the moment of glory—sometimes months or even years afterwards. In an extreme case, such as Armstrong's, he had already won seven Grand Tours, retired and amassed millions in endorsement money (in 2005, he was earning more than $17 million per year in endorsements).
Considering the financial upside for an athlete who may consider doping as a means of greater performance to increase their earnings, what do they have to worry about?
Even if they are exposed and found guilty, whether it results in a suspension or a ban, in most cases (especially in baseball) they've already reaped the benefits.
Three years after his record-breaking $252 million contract, Alex Rodriguez achieved greatness by winning his first American League MVP award. In 2009, it was revealed that A-Rod used anabolic steroids during his MVP season. That revelation may mark his career with an asterisk and, depending on the voters, possibly prevent him from entering the Hall of Fame. But his family's financial security will never be in doubt for many generations to come.
What, then, is the penalty for cheating? Suspensions and bans are just a slap on the wrist.
This must surely mean that the lesson being taught to kids is that it's okay to cheat as long as you make money.