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The cascade effect and the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong case

On October 22, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) officially revealed its decision to strip Lance Armstrong, a 7 time tour de france winner, from all  his top finishes from 1998-2005. This includes all 7 tour wins and several other podium finishes of professional racing. Perhaps more shocking than the athlete’s use of sports enhancing drugs was the extensive network that the USADA described in its case against Armstrong. Not only was Lance doping, but he was the ”kingpin” of the extensive doping network surrounding the USPS cycling team. According to confessions of Armstrong’s teammates, he was in charge of most of the operations and “bullied” other teammates into consuming drugs. The sport of cycling in the 1990’s, however, was far from clean. Most of Armstrong’s rivals were involved in some kind of drug use to aid their performance. The publication of Armstrong’s case also brought what appeared to be a wave of confessions, which I found relatable to the Cascade effect.

Before the release of Armstrong’s case, few, if any of his competitors ever willingly confessed to doping. Those who were caught and confessed were punished, but the amount of people who confessed were relatively few. Before the case, the payoff for confessing doping was close to 0, as it meant being banned temporarily or permanently from the sport. The only “payoff” for confession was to clear a guilty conscience and perhaps take revenge on the ‘bully’ that was Armstrong. The release of Armstrong’s  case also revealed the doping practices of his teammates, some of which are currently still racing. At this point, the cascade effect seemed to have begun. Riders who were mentioned in the case and had not confessed now confessed to being involved in the scandal. For a couple of days, it seemed as if everyone would confess, but whereas some had a lighter treatment (like Team Garmin-Sharp’s riders), others were fired in response to their dishonesty.

For a brief period it appeared that confessing would give a greater payoff (the cleansing of cycling, possibility keeping their jobs) than remaining silent. The strict policies of some teams, however, seems to be delaying the process because confession entails contract termination among other consequences. Thus, the cascade effect never really took as much force as an outsider would expect. Unfortunately, losing one’s job is not always the best choice so for a rider, his signals (whether it is beneficial to confess) dominate your payoff (clearing your consciousness and improving the sport). Aspects such as the apparent psychological “lynching” of Armstrong, temporary bans from the sport and permanent bans from doping free policy teams all contribute to keeping past doping practices secret. The biggest driving force for confessing is cleaning the sport, a process which has been characterized as tough but necessary. Only when confessing gives a higher payoff than staying silent will the cascade effect begin.


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October 2012