One question about Lance Armstrong and the apparent dethroning of his seven Tour de France titles: Should we still watch cycling on TV -- or, for that matter, any sport that seemingly requires a lot of effort?
Better still, should we believe or engage with those athletes who tout products or services through TV sponsorship? Or would we rather not know?
While columnists quickly churned out stories about how sponsors -- including the likes of Nike, Anheuser-Busch InBev, 24 Hour Fitness, Radio Shack, Oakley and Trek -- are still backing Armstrong at the moment, the truth is that Armstrong hadn't been much of an on-air factor for those brands lately.
We are left with images and comments of cyclists, including those in the current Vuelta a Espana, the third-biggest three-week cycling race. We continue to watch cyclists beat up each other on the road, churning out four to six hours of physical damage. So we wonder: In such a tough sport, how do they do it day in and day out? Then we are reminded that perhaps they had help.
I'm betting this feeling doesn't leap to stars of other sports like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones. Maybe athletes in baseball, track & field, rowing, ice hockey and even football are just naturally proficient. A little nutrition or supplement here or there is all they need.
Where does this leave TV viewers? Decades ago, you saw really big NFL players and thought of performance-enhancing drugs. But not so much in the past few years. So football is clean and cycling isn't, I guess.
The effect on sports viewers now? Baseball and football ratings are strong, track & field events during the Olympics posted big viewership, and there is more U.S. live coverage of road cycling events than ever.
We want to believe in the pure excitement, thrill – and drama -- of a big sports victory. But that is always the surface; we are just witnessing the end-results of hard training. Short of actually seeing on the TV screen athletes popping pills, or with syringes, or with testosterone patches, viewers will continue to focus on the aspects of competition they want to digest.