The winner of the 98th Tour de France will be crowned on Sunday, when the 21-​​stage, 2,131-mile bicycle race con­cludes in Paris. But the event has been tainted by ongoing alle­ga­tions of blood doping and the use of performance-​​enhancing drugs by cycling’s top per­formers, including last year’s winner, Alberto Con­tador, and seven-​​time Tour de France winner Lance Arm­strong, who retired from the sport in Feb­ruary. We asked Dan Lebowitz, exec­u­tive director of Sport in Society, a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity research center, to ana­lyze the impact of such illegal prac­tices in pro­fes­sional sports.

Performance-​​enhancing drugs (PEDs) have made pro­fes­sional ath­letes bigger, stronger and faster. But how have they changed the fan experience?

Per­haps the biggest change rel­a­tive to fan expe­ri­ence with respect to PEDs is the new aura of sus­pi­cion around all excel­lent per­for­mance in sport. This taint is not spe­cific to the Tour de France and speaks to the larger soci­etal issue of whether the appli­ca­tion of sci­ence has encroached upon cer­tain social, human, and moral ethics, including those in sport. Much of ath­letic fandom is about the amaze­ment rel­a­tive to ability. The pres­ence of PEDs in sport now cre­ates the dynamic ques­tion of whether that ability is defined as nat­ural ability or enhanced ability. Unfor­tu­nately, this pro­vides an asterisk to all ath­letic feats.

Lance Armstrong’s ath­letic accom­plish­ments have enabled him to make a wide­spread human­i­tarian con­tri­bu­tion through his foun­da­tion. To what extent do Armstrong’s phil­an­thropic con­tri­bu­tions out­weigh the alle­ga­tions of blood doping lev­eled against him?

In many respects, this ques­tion is the same as the first, in that it puts an asterisk on all of his accom­plish­ments. This is at once both a sad and unavoid­able con­se­quence of PEDs in sports. Undoubt­edly, his phe­nom­enal ath­letic per­for­mance gave him an inter­na­tional pro­file and plat­form that allowed him to do many great things in the areas of aware­ness, consciousness-​​raising and phil­an­thropy rel­a­tive to cancer. These con­tri­bu­tions have been real, impactful and sus­taining. The human con­di­tion is com­plex and — like all of us —Arm­strong embodies a capacity for both great­ness and for fail­ings. His work and com­mit­ment in the area of cancer pre­ven­tion is not min­i­mized by his alleged use of PEDs. Still, in the court of public opinion and in the arena of role mod­eling, cheating by any means should not be con­doned or celebrated.

Offi­cials in a number of sports, from cycling to Major League Base­ball, have been accused of turning a blind eye to the use of PEDs. How much blame do you place with offi­cials for the problem of PEDs in athletics?

When instances of bad per­sonal decision-​​making are under such an intense spot­light, it is often pop­ular to avoid account­ability and deflect blame. We live in a cul­ture where we’ve come to expect super­human per­for­mance in almost all aspects of life. How­ever, there is a dif­fer­ence between pushing the enve­lope of human expec­ta­tion and pro­moting a cul­ture of cheating. In the end, all of us have a choice about which path we will choose — and per­sonal account­ability always seems like the best route. If Arm­strong used PEDs, even if the cul­ture around him led him to that choice, this entire asterisk era can be seen in a pos­i­tive light in that it has cre­ated a new era of con­scious­ness about the cul­ture of sport.

Major League Base­ball and the Inter­na­tional Cycling Union have responded to the resul­tant scrutiny with a pro­gres­sive mindset about how to move for­ward. The great­ness of the human con­di­tion is that it allows us to learn from past mistakes.