Lance Armstrong is back in the news.
Actually, he’s been in the news a lot this past year, though not necessarily for the right things, the kinds of things people celebrate and cheer. Things like medals, Tour de France wins; the accolades of kids inspired by his resilience, the gratitude of those aided by his charity. Lance Armstrong has been in the news mostly because he lost all that: the medals, the golden jerseys, his role at his own Livestrong charity, the respect of those who stood up for him against persistent rumors of doping. Turns out, when the bad news piled on and those investigating him began threatening to take it all way, Armstrong folded. He made excuses about not fighting because he couldn’t win no matter what he did and it was time to move on. So they took it all away from him without a fight. Many of us were heartbroken and wondered why he did that.
Now we may find out; word is, he’s about to come out of his forced retirement to make an announcement, and it’s hinted that it will be an admission of truth. From the New York Times:
Lance Armstrong, who this fall was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping and barred for life from competing in all Olympic sports, has told associates and antidoping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career, according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation. He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.
For more than a decade, Armstrong has vehemently denied ever doping, even after antidoping officials laid out their case against him in October in hundreds of pages of eyewitness testimony from teammates, e-mail correspondence, financial records and laboratory analyses.
When asked if Armstrong might admit to doping, Tim Herman, Armstrong’s longtime lawyer, said, “Lance has to speak for himself on that.”
That hedging, along with the fact, expressed by some, that Armstrong would put himself in legal jeopardy if he ultimately admits to doping after testifying that he never did, have led to a wide swing in the speculation. SportingNews.com extrapolated:
The confession, according to the anonymous sources, would be part of Armstrong’s effort to be reinstated from a lifetime ban issued against him last October. Armstrong, 41, wants to compete in triathlons and running events… many of which follow the World Anti-Doping Code that Armstrong allegedly violated.
Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman, told The Times he did not not know about a possible admission.
“I suppose anything is possible, for sure. Right now, that’s really not on the table,” Herman was quoted as saying.
Notice the different spin on Mr. Herman’s response to the big question: what will Armstrong finally admit?
It may be about getting back into the sport for Armstrong, but for many, it’s about integrity and redemption. And that’s part of the problem: he literally built his brand on the notion of personal integrity – surviving cancer, building his body back up to become a winner; starting a charity that raises millions for cancer research and education. When your entire legacy is built on that notion of nobility and honor, the distance to fall is significant ,and when you do, where you land is a hard, sometimes unforgiving, place.
Frankly, he even made it onto my 10 Worst People Of 2012 list:
This one made me incredibly sad. I defended him, I wrote on threads about how he had never tested positive, about his charity, about his fight for survival after cancer; I wanted him to be a hero. But when he threw in the towel, allowed the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to permit the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles and later bar him from cycling, it was clear, despite his spin otherwise, that there was something to the charges and likely nothing to disprove. What man stops fighting when his entire legacy is being obliterated? A guilty one.
Some commenters to that piece argued the “innocent until proven guilty” defense and I suppose there’s something to that. I was one of those until he threw in that towel. No man that high allows himself to fall that low without a fight unless there’s something he doesn’t want to reveal.
If inside sources are right and there is going to be something in the form of an admission, how will that translate after all these years of fierce denial? When other high-profile athletes have come out to admit guilt in similar circumstances, the fallout for some was significant. Most quietly disappeared into a life outside their sport, some landed in prison for perjury (see Marion Jones).
Armstrong faces a similar threat: he did assert in sworn testimony that he never doped. And while there are some who’d like him to clear his name regardless of that threat (particularly those involved with his Livestrong charity), there is more than one obstacle to his coming forward at this time with an admission of guilt:
Several legal cases stand in the way of a confession, the people familiar with the situation said. Among the obstacles is a federal whistle-blower case in which Armstrong and several team officials from his United States Postal Service cycling team are accused of defrauding the government by allowing doping on the squad when the team’s contract with the Postal Service clearly stated that any doping would constitute default of their agreement.
Herman said the option to confess to antidoping officials was not currently on the table. However, the people familiar with the situation said Armstrong, 41, was in fact moving toward confessing and had even been in discussions with the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Armstrong had met with Travis Tygart, the agency’s chief executive, in an effort to mitigate the lifetime ban he received for playing a lead role in doping on his Tour-winning teams, according to one person briefed on the situation. [New York Times]
Until we actually see Armstrong standing in front of a phalanx of microphones, it’s likely rumors will swirl. But many believe, regardless of where he goes from here – what happens with the civil lawsuits he’s facing, whether he regains sponsors, picks back up with Livestrong, renews the trust of the sporting community and its fans – facing the truth of the situation may be his only option, certainly as an athlete:
According to the World Anti-Doping Code, an athlete might be eligible for a reduced punishment if he fully confesses and details how he doped, who helped him dope and how he got away with doping. But a reduced lifetime ban might decrease only to eight years or four, at best, antidoping experts said. [New York Times]
How it restores his reputation in the eyes of his fans will remain to be seen. Some say he doesn’t have any farther to fall (though imprisonment for perjury would be a new level of hell…). Ultimately, Armstrong doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who can teeter on the edge of oblivion forever. Odds are there will be a follow-up to this story very soon…