So now I'm officially ticked off at Lance Armstrong.
Before, if this is possible, I was doggedly neutral in regard to his case. When the drug cops showed up at his door, Armstrong said he wasn't guilty. He promised to fight the charges, smoke out the witch-hunters who were unfairly starting a fire beneath his feet.
Terrific, I thought. Armstrong will force the cops to prove their case. Then we'll finally learn if the greatest cyclist of our lifetime was a big phony or the honest pedaler he's always claimed to be. I was neither on the side of the Armstrong haters or the Armstrong lovers. The issue didn't dominate my life. World-class competitive cycling is not my area of greatest expertise or passion. My general impression is that it's one of the dirtiest sports going, simply because of all the guilty athletes who've been stripped of titles over the years.
But, fine, Armstrong claimed he was innocent and being railroaded. I've only participated in one group interview with him, but he can be convincing. He raises a lot of money for cancer research, never a bad thing. So I was willing to give Armstrong a chance to prove the drug cops are wrong.
Specifically, I was eager to hear how he defended himself against all those former teammates who said they'd seen him cheat. I knew it would give us a good look inside the sport. And I always enjoy a good courtroom fight. Surely, a man who conquered all of those mountain passes and
No, so sorry, pick another category, please.
Maybe for Armstrong, the proper category is: "Famous Sporting Passive-Aggressive Hypocrites."
Armstrong's announcement this week that he will not fight the charges against him--while still maintaining his innocence -- is the legal equivalent of him starting up the first steep hill of the Tour and saying: "I don't think so. I think this pavement has some unfair turns. But you know, I would have won if I'd kept going."
On the one hand, Armstrong wants us to believe he is a pure hero. On the other hand, he wants us to believe that pure heroes should at some point never have to prove they are pure heroes. I have cycling friends who have supported him to the teeth. I've had skeptical friends who never bought any of his rhetoric. Me? I wanted to see it all play out. But all I see is a guy who never really wanted to fight.
For example, according to reports, Armstrong sent a representative/lobbyist for his Livestrong foundation to Washington D.C. this summer to visit congressmen and request a side door out of the drug arbitration maze that had trapped him. Armstrong's argument was that his philanthropic activity was of such greater importance to the nation than a silly drug case. Thus, he said, the government should grant him an exemption from the arbitration/verdict process implemented by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which sought to ban him from the sport and strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.
The lobbyist didn't get anywhere. Armstrong's lawyers then filed federal lawsuit asking for USADA's due process to be pro-actively stopped because it was a witch hunt. The lawsuit was rejected. The judge said Armstrong could go through the due process--in which USADA's evidence would be presented and his defense could try to shoot it down--and then sue afterward if he the prosecution had been shady.
That's how we do it in America. Barry Bonds battled the drug cops in court--on a perjury/obstruction charge that was tied to his steroid use--and lost a narrow decision with one conviction on a minor charge. Roger Clemens battled the drug cops in court--also on a perjury charge connected to his alleged steroid dalliances--and won a decision. Bonds and Clemens were controversial. But at least they laid out their case to the public and battled the charges against them to the teeth.
Armstrong didn't. He barked a lot. But he declined to do any serious legal biting. Draw your own conclusions. I've drawn mine. Armstrong's stance is a no-contest plea. In the courtroom, that's how you admit guilt without officially admitting guilt. This doesn't mean I will stop donating money to the cancer charities, Armstrong's or otherwise. Like so many other families, mine has been touched by the disease, more than once. And as we have learned in so many cases, it's quite possible for a person to be a saint in one part of his life and a sinner in another.
I'm not going to praise or rip Armstrong for being either a saint or sinner. But I am peeved that he did not follow through on his big talk. At this point, he should just shut up. He says that his seven Tour de France winning performances should still be recognized as legitimate. On faith, I guess. It will be interesting to see what Tour officials do. Many of the competitors that Armstrong defeated have since been certified as doping cheats. Some have even gone on to implicate Armstrong. In cycling, faith is a rapidly disintegrating rear tire going flatter by the minute. So is Armstrong's reputation.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5092.