As many of you know, I have long idolized professional cyclist (and fellow Texan) Lance Armstrong. When allegations of drug use dogged him, I defended him. My defense was procedural rather than substantive. First, Armstrong denied using drugs, and I had no reason to disbelieve him. Second, he had never tested positive for drugs, despite having been tested hundreds of times. We know that Armstrong is a special athlete. He was winning triathlons and bike races long before he was diagnosed with cancer. Stories about his athletic dominance are legion. Wasn't it possible, I thought, that he rode clean? Has anyone accused Wayne Gretzky of cheating, merely because he demolished Gordie Howe's longstanding hockey records? Perhaps Armstrong, like Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.
We now know, because Armstrong has admitted as much, that he cheated. He knowingly broke the rules of cycling. We also know how he managed to evade detection all these years. You may be wondering how this makes me feel. The answer is that I feel surprised, betrayed, and disappointed. But it doesn't embarrass me in any way. I stand by my defense. I gave Armstrong the benefit of the doubt. I wanted either an admission from him or a positive drug test. Unless and until these were forthcoming, I was going to assume the best about him rather than the worst.
I continue to believe, contrary to what Armstrong himself says, that he could have won at least one Tour de France without cheating. He's that good an athlete. Could he have won multiple Tours? Probably not. His rivals, such as Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov, Marco Pantani, and Alberto Contador, were cheating. That would have put Armstrong at a competitive disadvantage. Perhaps the worst thing about all the cheating (Armstrong's and others') is that we'll never know who the best cyclists were during the 1990s and 2000s. This knowledge is what sport is all about, in my opinion. Drugs have ruined the sport I love. Armstrong was part of this ruination.
I could teach an entire Ethics course about this case. It involves cheating, lying, violating trust, and bullying, among other transgressions. It shows the difference between constrained conduct and maximizing conduct. To Armstrong, the end (winning races) justified the means. This is consequentialism. It has caused more human misery than any other doctrine, by far. The misery caused by religion is as nothing by comparison.