Lance Armstrong has long been a polarizing figure in the world of sport. Fans have celebrated his ability to beat cancer in the mid-1990s and then go on to dominate the sport of cycling by winning seven straight Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. Critics have long argued that Armstrong won while orchestrating the most sophisticated doping program ever seen in the world of sport.
During the past 15 years Armstrong repeatedly lashed out at anyone who accused him of using illegal performance enhancing substances. He used a team of publicists and attorneys to threaten and bully people. There are reports that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the organization that oversees professional cycling, actually participated in a conspiracy with Armstrong to cover up suspicious drug tests and help him avoid random tests. This was allegedly done to protect the most valuable asset in the sport. UCI has recently set up an independent group to investigate these allegations.
Armstrong was successful for years in fending off attacks on his performances. Things changed in October 2012 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a 1,000-page report filled with evidence it had collected against Armstrong over the past decade. Included were affidavits by over 25 individuals who would have had personal knowledge of Armstrong’s activities, as well as details about suspicious drug samples. The evidence presented was seen as overwhelming.
USADA scheduled a hearing on whether to impose sanctions against Armstrong. He chose for the first time not to fight allegations against him and waived his right to a hearing. USADA then rendered what amounted to a default judgment. It stripped Armstrong of his Tour wins and imposed a lifetime competition ban on competition. The World Doping Agency (WADA) subsequently agreed with USADA’s actions.
In November, Armstrong secretly met with Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, in an effort to reach an agreement on what he had to do to have his lifetime ban (which can be lifted after eight years) shortened as much as possible so that he can compete in triathlons. That meeting reportedly went poorly.
It was only at this point that Armstrong began to consider a confession that he had indeed been guilty of doping. After a month of discussion with his advisers, Armstrong decided to “come clean” in an interview with Oprah Winfrey to air on her OWN cable network. Cynics suggested that Winfrey was selected because she would not ask difficult questions.
The interview took place in a hotel in Armstrong’s hometown of Austin, Texas. It was scheduled to air over two nights beginning January 17. The interview and its public perception represent a huge gamble on Armstrong’s part. While Armstrong did admit in the interview to having been doping during all seven of his Tour wins, he did not provide details. He also would not implicate others except to agree with Winfrey when she asked if most competitors were doping during that period of time.
Armstrong’s net worth is currently estimated at some $125 million. He has, however, lost almost all of his commercial endorsements. He has been forced to sever ties to the non-profit agency, Livestrong, he established to raise money for cancer research. He is looking at tens of millions of dollars in lost income over the next decade.
Many believe that he had no choice but to confess in an effort to salvage his image and to eventually rehabilitate himself in the public eye to the point where he would be marketable again. He is, however, engaging in a balancing act with significant risks.
Several years ago Armstrong sued The Times of London newspaper over stories it ran in 2004 in which its reporter accused Armstrong of doping. The lawsuit was settled for a reported $1 million. The Times has demanded that Armstrong make his confession under oath and has hinted that it may sue to get its money back alleging fraud. Under British law the paper would also be able to ask for punitive damages.
Floyd Landis was a former teammate of Armstrong. Landis won the Tour de France in 2006 and subsequently had his title stripped because he was found to have engaged in doping, charges to which he admitted. Landis has filed a whistle blower lawsuit under federal law against Armstrong alleging that Armstrong defrauded the U.S. Postal Service of some $40 million in expenses it paid to Armstrong and teammates when it sponsored a team on the international cycling circuit. If Landis prevails, under the law damages would be trebled.
Other entities have indicated that they might also take legal action against Armstrong for monies paid out under false pretenses. It is at least possible that Armstrong could wind up being bankrupted by the various legal actions. The U.S. Justice Department ended its lengthy criminal investigation against Armstrong in February 2012 without bringing any charges. Officials there, however, are considering joining the whistleblower lawsuit filed by Landis.
One way Armstrong could earn money right now would be to write a “tell all” book. Such a book would have to go into great detail about his doping activities. This would provide material for the various parties suing him or thinking about doing so. So until and unless he settles all of his legal challenges, writing a book seems out of the question.
The Oprah Winfrey interview confirmed that Armstrong does now admit to doping as far back as 1996. She has stated, however, that he “was not as forthcoming as I had thought he would be.” This is the dilemma facing Armstrong. He claims he “left it all on the table” in the interview. If he truly wants forgiveness, however, he is going to have to provide details about his activities. His aggressive and often nasty actions taken against critics have angered many people. It he wants to rebuild his image to the point of being a marketable figure again, he is going to have to provide a lot of details. Doing so could, however, lead to more serious legal problems.
I believe that it is significant that Armstrong only came forward to confess his sins when he was completely backed into a corner. Even now he appears to be trying to put a spin on his message and to limit what he actually confesses to in terms of providing details. As WADA has stated, “Only when Mr. Armstrong makes a full confession under oath—and tells the authorities all he knows about doping activities—can any legal and proper process for him to seek any reopening or reconsideration of his lifetime ban commence.” Armstrong is a little like a small boy who is caught taking cookies from a schoolmate’s lunchbox. The little boy is sorry, not because what he did was wrong, but because he was caught.
Armstrong also sought to in a sense minimize his actions by stating that he did not do anything that others were not doing. Known facts suggest that his doping enterprise was vast in scale and involved perhaps dozens of people. Armstrong was a kingpin in the world of doping. He should not be forgiven until and unless he provides information that helps clean up the sport of cycling once and for all.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years.