I see that famous cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his racing titles for doping.  I also heard something about baseball players being suspended for steroids earlier this week.  [I don’t closely follow cycling or baseball, so I should mention that what follows is based on only cursory knowledge of the events in question.]

Athletes are competitive.  They will do anything to get an edge.  So, why is anyone surprised by this?  In a sense, what they’re doing is no different than experimenting with diets to enhance their performance.  It’s just that these substances are banned by the rules of competition.

Here’s the thing: it’s been seven years since Armstrong won these races.  Stripping him of them now may hurt his image a bit, (although I don’t think anyone can deny that his is a remarkable story anyway)  but he and everyone else knows that he won those races.  It happened.  You might say “he cheated”, but from what I have read, lots of other people in the sport at the time cheated too.  When everyone’s cheating everyone else, it’s hard to figure out who was victimized

There is not much point in punishing Armstrong after the fact, because he still got to be in those races, and win them.  To an athlete, I suspect that’s all that really matters.  They’re willing to take the risk to gain a competitive edge.  If that seems crazy to you, well, it does to me, too.  But I’m not a pro athlete.

I’m not defending Armstrong.  He broke the rules, and deserves to be punished accordingly.  I am just saying that the regulatory bodies need to either be able to prevent athletes who cheat this way from participating in the event beforehand, or else they need to throw up their hands and admit they can’t do anything.  If the most they can do is punish someone after the fact, I don’t think it will change anything.  Ultra-competitive athletes will take that chance every time.