Before the furor of the presidential election consumed our attention, the main topic at the water cooler centered around Lance Armstrong, the cycling superstar who last month was deemed guilty of using banned drugs to boost his competitive edge.

It was a tragic story on many levels -- of personal humiliation, of widespread cover-up among the elite ranks of international cycling and tacit denial by the media and sponsors. Perhaps most crushing of all, it tainted Armstrong's most important victory -- over cancer -- and the hope it represented for so many individuals currently fighting the disease.

Armstrong and many of his colleagues, including a handful with Utah ties, have since been stripped of their medals and banned or suspended from competing. Some say the punishment is too harsh, that use of the drugs was too widespread to single out a few as scapegoats.

We disagree. Like the recent suspensions of high-profile baseball players and past Olympic doping incidents involving cross country skiers, wrestlers and runners, we owe it to future athletes to be tough and uniformly consistent in rooting out substance abuse in all sports, professional and amateur.

It is important to communicate to those talented superstars on whose coattails we ride that they do not have to sacrifice their health for our entertainment or national pride. And, we need to be equally judgmental of the organizations that allow such abuses to occur.


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Furthermore, we should make it clear to sponsors who encourage, by turning a blind eye to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, that they are also responsible for perpetuating this sad and destructive practice.

Yes, stripping Armstrong of seven Tour de France medals is harsh, but if we continue to condone, even by negligence, the use of performance-enhancing drugs, we ensure the playing field will always be rigged. In a town that prides itself on raising champions, we have an even stronger duty to ensure that drugs have no place on the podium.

We can do that by enforcing zero-tolerance doping policies from the high school sports level on up, and by making testing mandatory and justice swift.