Most of us learned to ride our first bikes around the age of four or five. If I recall correctly, that was also around the time we learned that lying, cheating, stealing, and undercutting our best friends were all bad things.
If you believe Tyler Hamilton's account—and there seems to be no credible reason not to—it appears Lance Armstrong focused so much on his cycling skills that he forgot to learn ethics.
If it turns out, as Hamilton alleges, U.S. Postal team members were doping as early as the 90s and at least one positive test was brushed under the carpet for Armstrong by the UCI to save face, we have a very slippery slope. Although we can't prosecute someone just for making such an asinine decision and letting fans down, team members could be charged if they lied under oath in earlier testimony or were obtaining and using the steroids, EPO and transfusions illegally.
The team's management and its members could also take a direct hit financially if found lying.
The U.S. Postal Service, a government agency, paid out $31.9 million to bankroll the team between 2001 to 2004. USPS profits actually decreased in that time period, and as post office branches in under-served areas brace for closure due to extreme budget cuts this year, one has to wonder what difference that cash could have made.
PostalWatch executive director Rick Merritt noted the USPS raised postage rates three times while customers effectively paid to sponsor a European sporting event. "Adding insult to injury," Merritt said, "they achieved a negative result." And that was beforethe doping allegations came out.
Because the USPS sponsorship contract included clauses about both drug use and negative publicity, the federal government may have a case against the team.
It's not hard to see why Armstrong is holding out, maintaining innocence even after teammates implicated him under oath. No individual team member would be more vulnerable. His net worth is somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 million, all of which he earned either by winning Tours, gaining endorsements for winning Tours, investing in other companies with the cash he won winning Tours...you get the picture.
With his LIVESTRONG (a trademark of the Lance Armstrong Foundation) now at the forefront of his marketing efforts, Lance's entire persona at this point is based on being a good role model. What happens to his fund-raising ability for what is otherwise a noble cause if his reputation is tarnished beyond repair?
Some insist the entire matter should be dismissed as "in the past" and "insignificant." I disagree. If we let the cyclists by with the "everybody's doing it" pass and ignore the decade-long lies, what message are we sending to kids in every other sport? And where do we draw the new line?
If it was okay for Lance Armstrong to dish out EPO to team members, undergo fresh blood transfusions to better his performance and lie about it, is it also okay for Rafael Nadal to inject steroids during changeovers?
Should prospective football players at Auburn be permitted to steal iPods from the team locker room while on official visits?
Should Michael Phelps be allowed to smoke pot in the Olympic stadium?
Personally, I'm not half as surprised about the team's alleged EPO use and vampirish transfusions as I am about Armstrong's willingness to crucify any team member who dares speak out about it under oath.
What a terrible message to send young riders just as they're learning to take off their training wheels.