Thursday, October 11, 2012

USADA's Case Against Armstrong

I despise Lance Armstrong and I hesitate to make any mention of him on my blog, as to do so is to add, if only minutely, to his fame.  However, yesterday’s release of the reasoned decision in USADA’s doping case against Armstrong is too big to ignore.  I admit that I took many prejudices into my reading of the report, but a couple of hours later I came out with no countervailing impressions.  I am convinced that Armstrong established a doping program for himself, expanded it aggressively to his teammates, and used his fortune and his stature within cycling to intimidate those who spoke against him.

USADA’s report relies heavily on the accounts of Armstrong’s former teammates and other US Postal and Discovery Channel team personnel.  Armstrong’s apologists attempted to cast doubt on the reliability of these witnesses because some of them—Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, most particularly—admitted not only to their own doping offenses but also to elaborate denials that began with the implausible and ended with the ridiculous.  But in their sworn testimony to USADA, Landis and Hamilton provide specifics that are not merely plausible, but also corroborated by several other former Armstrong teammates.  Should we assume that all of the testimony was false, that it was obtained only by USADA coercion, that each of Armstrong’s former teammates had an ax to grind or was looking to line his pockets with a lucrative book deal?  Come on.  Some of the riders in question had, like Lance, “never failed a drug test,” though after reading their testimony you will wonder how anyone ever got caught.  Some, like George Hincapie and Michael Barry, were already retired from the sport.  Admitting their participation in Armstrong’s doping program came at a considerable personal cost.  Their reputations are now forever damaged.

But even if the remaining Armstrong fans aren’t convinced by the testimony of confessed dopers, how can they explain the relationship between Armstrong and Dr. Michele Ferrari?  It’s clear from bank records that Armstrong paid more than $1M to Ferrari.  Are we to assume that huge sum was for occasional advice on seat post height?  Again, come on.  Armstrong continued but attempted to conceal his relationship with Ferrari for years after the doctor faced doping charges in Italy.

You can see real desperation among the thinning ranks of Armstrong faithful in their comments on CyclingNews, VeloNews, Yahoo and other forums.  Some are clinging to the absence of the smoking gun: the failed drug test.  Others are attacking the credibility of the witnesses, calling for a lifetime ban for everyone involved.  Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.  Without the promise of reduced sanctions, much of the testimony would have been withheld.  It stinks, but it’s a long-standing practice in criminal and civil proceedings and in cases like this one that don’t fit neatly into the legal system.  Armstrong fans continue to follow the lead of Armstrong’s attorneys by describing the USADA case as a witch hunt, a vendetta, and a waste of taxpayer money.  Where was the indignation back when taxpayer money was used to fund the US Postal team in the first place?  And where was Armstrong, who chose not to defend himself before a panel of arbitrators?  In a real witch hunt, the witches had their day in court.  For them, the outcome was usually predecided, but they were there to protest their innocence.  With the cowardice of a bully who is finally faced with an authority he cannot intimidate, Armstrong chose not to expose himself to examination under oath.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped his team of lawyers from criticizing the ensuing proceedings at every turn.

The UCI now must decide whether it will challenge USADA’s decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.  Don’t be surprised if it does, as the UCI takes quite a beating in the USADA document.  The UCI has been all over the place on this case, sometimes saying that USADA had the right to pursue the charges, sometimes claiming jurisdiction for itself.  When USADA made a preliminary announcement of its decision, the UCI called USADA’s reasoning into question by complaining about the amount of time it took for USADA to present the supporting documentation.  The overall impression is an attempt by the UCI to undermine USADA’s credibility, and that hardly speaks to the impartiality of the body that is supposed to govern the sport.

What’s left to the believers?  Not much.  So little, in fact, that one of their remaining arguments is that if everyone doped then Lance was still the best on a level, if dishonest, playing field.  Therefore, they say, he should retain his seven Tour de France titles because there is no one more worthy of them.  What utter nonsense, and what an insult to those riders who chose to race clean.  Yes, we know that nearly all of the men who shared the podium with Lance were guilty of doping or at least fell under well-reasoned suspicion, but we are far from being able to say that the entire peloton was dirty.  Let the titles be vacated.  It’s absolutely foolish to remove dopers from the results and contend that the remaining order would have prevailed if the dirty riders had not participated.

But the worst argument of all must be that punishing Armstrong will have such a damaging effect on Livestrong that for the sake of all those poor cancer patients we should overlook his transgressions.  On one hand, it’s very difficult to criticize Livestrong.  As an organization it has done great work and has given hope to a lot of people.  But on the other hand, the organization is built on a lie.  Livestrong exists because Armstrong beat cancer and won the Tour de France.  Take away either of those things and there is no Livestrong.  If Armstrong is a fraud, then Livestrong continues only to his self-aggrandizement.  Livestrong is one of innumerable charitable organizations fighting cancer.  Its demise, should it come, need not prevent anyone from making a donation.  At the website of the American Cancer Society you can even make one in Lance Armstrong’s honor.  You won’t get a yellow wristband to show off, but then it’s not about you, is it?

I repeat: I despise Lance Armstrong.  I admit to having enjoyed, for a while, his exploits on the bike before I had good reason to suspect he was doping.  But I never had reason to suspect he was anything other than an arrogant prick off the bike.  I couldn’t understand why in interview after interview the media allowed itself to be trampled by such a crude and insulting person.  So, no, I didn’t read the USADA report with an open mind.  I read the report to find confirmation of what I already believed.  That’s my confession, and confession is good for the soul.

Ask almost anyone.

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