Travis T. Tygart, the Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was seated in a plush chair on the raised stage, his fingers intertwined. To his left was Tyler Hamilton, a retired pro cyclist and former member of Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Tour de France team, slumped forward, his head slightly bowed. He appears weary but grimly determined; a pose not dissimilar to that of a soldier fighting a war that he fears he cannot ultimately win yet refuses to surrender.
To the throng of eager, data analyzing, current and future sports executives at the the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Conference, Tygart said, “The analytics are only as good as the foundation upon which they’re based. And if they’re not pure—if drugs that influence the numbers—everything else you’re doing at this conference is almost rendered meaningless.”
But is it? Tygart and Hamilton’s presentation was meant to be an object lesson in the evils of performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs. But instead of moral outrage, I left not knowing who the evildoers were and if there was anything “evil” occurring at all.
Tygart’s warning shot was fired in room 304 of the Hynes Convention Center in Boston for the Sloan Conference, a massive gathering of the self-anointed best and brightest to explore the newest, wild frontiers in sports analytics. The exception was this oddball panel entitled, “Risking it All: Why Championship Athletes Dope and What it Means for Sport.” And If Tygart was the crusading general, Hamilton, the cyclist to his left, was one of the casualties.
Hamilton got busted for PED’s at the peak of his career, right after he nabbed the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athena. For years afterward, he vehemently denied all charges, slinging excuses that are all-too-familiar to anyone who’s suffered through any of Alex Rodriguez’s or Barry Bonds’ moon-faced, clenched-jaw denials—the testing process itself was flawed, there was some mishap with his blood by a bumbling, overworked lab geek, attempts to discredit the USADA and the various reporters, suggesting that there were ulterior motives at play and so on.
Eventually, after testing positive for a second time in 2008 and receiving a second ban, he came clean, testifying before a Federal Grand Jury that was investigating his former teammate, Lance Armstrong in 2010.
For both Tygart and Hamilton, this is a moral question that eschews any and all ambiguous shades of gray. As Hamilton detailed pain that lying caused for him and those around him, he was also just as clear that, even though he was able to rationalize his actions at the time, he did and does feel like a cheater.
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