Facing a pile of evidence more daunting than the French Alps, cyclist Lance Armstrong elected not to fight. Allegations that he used banned substances and blood-doping techniques to win seven Tour de France titles are nothing new. But this time around, the United States Anti-Doping Agency seemed determined to prove its case against Armstrong beyond a reasonable doubt-and with more than a few smoking guns. Though he insists he is innocent, Armstrong will not resist the USADA's findings and attending penalties. These include being banned for life from cycling and stripped of all prizes and titles accumulated since 1998.
The action delivers a crushing blow to the already deeply damaged image of cycling. But what of Armstrong's reputation? His story of overcoming testicular cancer en route to unprecedented athletic achievement has provided hope to millions of cancer patients. His foundation has raised more than $470 million for cancer research, much of that through the sale of 84 million yellow "Livestrong" bracelets. And his brand is widely disseminated through endorsement deals with Nike, Oakley, and Anheuser-Busch among others.
At least so far, the USADA's action looks to be having little impact on Armstrong's public image. Nike, Oakley, and Anheuser-Busch are standing by their man. The Lance Armstrong Foundation reported a 30 percent spike in donations. And well-respected voices from the athletic community the world over are coming to his defense. ESPN columnist Rick Reilly wrote that he doesn't care whether Armstrong "cheated in a sport where cheating is as common as eating." Reilly wants "to thank him for everything he's done since he cheated." India's star cricketer Yuvraj Singh, himself a cancer survivor, says Armstrong will always be his hero. Newsweek writer Buzz Bissinger wrote, "He is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them. And he needs to remain one."
Such insistence seems intent to overlook Armstrong's failings. He left his wife in 2003 and began dating singer Sheryl Crow only weeks later. Fellow cyclists report brazen arrogance and narcissism that manifested in anger or verbal assaults. He now charges $150,000 for speaking appearances to speak on the virtues of never quitting. He is an athletic specimen, a great cyclist, and a talented self-promoter. But his life is a testament to where a win-at-all-costs ethic leads.
The 2012 class of rookie NFL quarterbacks could prove the best ever. And that's saying something. In 1983, future Hall-of-Famers John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly entered the league along with Ken O'Brien, who would make two Pro Bowls in his lengthy career. But in 1983, only Elway entered the season as his team's starter. In 2012, five rookie quarterbacks climbed to the top of the depth chart for their teams' openers, two of those carrying Hall-of-Fame-sized expectations.
No one doubted that Andrew Luck of the Colts and Robert Griffin III of the Redskins would be named starters when they were drafted with the first two overall picks back in April. Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins and Brandon Weeden of the Browns also were expected to at least challenge for starting spots, which they did successfully. Russell Wilson of the Seahawks surprised the league and his own coaches by outplaying free agent acquisition Matt Flynn to claim the starter role.
Add in the five quarterbacks from the 2011 class who achieved starter status this season, and the NFL features first- or second-year players at 10 of its 32 quarterback positions. Either the league is witnessing a burst in talent or the gap between the college and pro games is shrinking.