So Lance Armstrong (Probably) Cheated. Now What?


Even without positive drug tests, I think it's likely that Lance Armstrong cheated -- there's too much evidence stacked against him. Even Armstrong's most trusted confidant, George Hincapie, was likely going to testify for USADA . Many Armstrong fans are currently in denial about what his refusal to fight the charges really means, but I think that will change as we find out more during his compatriots' arbitration.

"But Chris, he passed every drug test!" My response is that no one is threatening to put Armstrong in jail for this. The burden of proof isn't a "beyond a reasonable doubt," as in a criminal trial, but "to a comfortable satisfaction." That is defined by the World Anti-Doping Code as "greater than a mere balance of probability but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt." This is the standard USADA follows, and I think it's the appropriate one if we're to disincentivize clever athletes from doping. I'd also remind the reader that eyewitness accounts constitute direct evidence, not circumstantial evidence as commonly claimed.

The real tragedy of the Armstrong affair isn't that Armstrong (likely) won with help from cheating, but that others lost because of it. Who knows? Maybe if the USPS team hadn't doped we'd be singing the praises of a clean athlete who unfortunately -- thanks to doping -- never got his shot. Or maybe if no one had ever doped, Armstrong would still have been the best in an all-clean sport.

I realize that Lance must find all of this terribly unfair. As the old saying goes "Everyone was doing it," and he was just doing what was necessary to achieve his dream after a near-death experience. I bet Armstrong truly doesn't believe he cheated because of this. (I call this the Gattaca defense.) But thanks to USADA's vigilant prosecution of cheaters, hopefully no young athlete will have to face the awful choice Armstrong circa-1998 had to make.

I bet that secretly pleases him.

Stand by your man
The good news for Armstrong is that it appears his sponsors are staying put. Nike (NYS: NKE) is standing by the cyclist: "Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. ... Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors."

The story is the same with Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch (NYS: BUD) . Paul Chibe, Anheuser-Busch's VP of U.S. marketing, said in a statement, "Our partnership with Lance remains unchanged. ... He has inspired millions with his athletic achievements and his commitment to helping cancer survivors and their families."

Oakley sunglasses, which is a subsidiary of Luxottica (NYS: LUX) , is taking a more lukewarm but still supportive approach. "As Lance's longtime supporter and partner, Oakley respects his decision and his restated commitment to focus on the foundation he created to help battle cancer," Oakley said in a statement. "Oakley supports its athletes who respect and honor the ethics of sports until proven otherwise."

Thanks to Lance's refusal to fight the charges, he will never be "proven otherwise." Perhaps that is the point.

Is it good for business?
RadioShack (NYS: RSH) still hasn't issued a statement either way, but my hunch is they will stick around like the other sponsors. Their corporate citizenship page still sings the praises of Livestrong.

Despite the likely cheating, it's hard to deny what Armstrong did was a tremendous physical achievement. Nike's sponsorship still makes some sense because of this. Heck, if Nike can stand by Tiger Woods, it can certainly stand by Armstrong.

I'm not sure if the sponsorship still makes sense for Luxottica, RadioShack, and Anheuser-Busch. These companies have little to do with athletic achievement (though Luxottica may beg to differ). Their partnership with Armstrong is more based on his character and charity, and more importantly the public's perception of his character and charity. The latter has obviously taken a beating in the past week.

What do you think?

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Fool contributor Chris Baines is a value investor. Follow him on Twitter, where he goes by@askchrisbaines. Chris' stock picks and pans have outperformed 96% of players on CAPS. He owns no shares of the companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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