USADA action against Lance Armstrong: simply unAmerican

I’m more than a little troubled by what has happened with the Lance Armstrong case. I’ll begin by saying that I don’t know if Armstrong is guilty of doping. If it were proven that he were I wouldn’t be surprised – his accomplishments are simply remarkable, and to have done it all in a sport where apparently every single participant was juicing, that would be the most spectacular accomplishment in sporting history.

If he were somehow proven to be clean (impossible, I know – can’t prove that you didn’t do something), that would be believable, as well. It would certainly jive with all the actual evidence at hand. Most tested athlete in history, and as I understand it the only positive test was later ruled out by a negative B sample. And as for that “most spectacular accomplishment in sporting history” thing? There are plenty of other athletes who have defied logic. Michael Phelps is a freak of nature. Bob Beamon must have had a rocket pack in his shorts. Usain Bolt? Sweet hell, he wins Olympic gold medals skipping the last 20 meters backward.

So I have no bias, no dogmatic faith in either side of the argument. I understand the suspicion, and I also understand those wary of the suspicions. For instance, I’ve heard people compare Armstrong to Barry Bonds. Fair enough. Both men posted outlandish performances in an era of rampant Performance Enhancing Drug abuse. It would be impossible for a thinking person to look at the situation and not wonder.

On the other hand, Barry Bonds never passed 500 of the most advanced drug tests of the era. Lance Armstrong never admitted to using the “cream” and the “clear.” And while both men were targets of federal investigations, Bonds was charged and convicted while Armstrong was not. And suspicion isn’t evidence.

As I say, there are arguments to be made on both sides of the question. But today’s post isn’t about that. What bugs me this morning really has little to do with Armstrong per se. Stick with me here.

Many folks make what I see as a credible case that he was very likely guilty.

Yesterday on ESPN radio one of their sports talkers pointed to the fact that the US Anti-Doping Agency had ten former teammates prepared to testify that Armstrong was guilty. He asked a question: are we supposed to believe that these people have all lined up a perfect conspiracy to lie about their former team leader? What motive would they have?

That’s a good question. But good questions aren’t the same as conclusive proof. And it’s a good question that has some good answers:

  • As for conspiracies, they had heretofore all lined behind the position that Lance was clean, yes? So if you can unanimously endorse a point in circumstances like this, why can’t you unanimously endorse the opposite point?
  • What do we make of ten witnesses who go from insisting that he didn’t do it to saying yeah, he did in such wonderfully synchronized lock-step? Am I the only one suspicious of that?
  • By the way, when it comes to conspiracies, it’s harder to hold together the lie because you have to have everybody correctly remembering made-up details. It’s easier to get everyone correctly remembering what actually happened. Something to ponder. The earlier unanimous conspiracy was holding together pretty well because it was supported by evidence.
  • As for no motive, on the contrary. These guys had all admitted to cheating. No telling what kind of bullying the USADA was resorting to, but it probably included a threat to ban them for life. Like they’re doing Armstrong. And the ADA appears to operate without oversight, so yeah, I see a motive.
  • Finally, as for the idea that it isn’t plausible for all these witnesses to just make stuff up (despite the fact that they have evidently been doing just that until recently), let me reply with a question of my own: how plausible is the testimony of ten coerced witnesses when it is directly contradicted by years and years of physical evidence?

The other argument the ESPN host offered was that often cheaters have an advantage in that rule-breaking technology necessarily runs ahead of the reactive technology required to catch the cheaters. This is true. In the computer world, for instance, you don’t release the fix for a virus before the virus itself is created. Medical science doesn’t cure diseases that haven’t manifested yet. Same for doping. Somebody comes up with a new way to cheat, and then the establishment has to find a way to catch them. Good argument.

Except that it’s purely speculative. It cannot be demonstrated with evidence. And we do not convict based on an assumption that you’re too good, so you must be cheating. Also, our anti-doping technology has caught up with older practices, and I believe old samples still exist, so you should be able to apply 2012 policing tech to 2003 cheating tech and prove guilt if there were any, right?

If I’m factually off on this, I invite you to correct me, but I’m making a good faith argument based on what I believe is accurate information.

Finally – and here’s the part that really bothers me – Armstrong had to make a decision about his willingness to commit millions of dollars to permanent war against the USADA. If anything in all this was clear, it was that the ADA was never going to stop hounding him. Ever. They had adopted, as a fundamental plank of their operational dogma, the self-evident truth that Armstrong was guilty and issued a fatwa against him. After hundreds of tests failed to find him at fault, they changed their tactics: since we can’t prove that you’re guilty, we’re going to ban you unless you can prove you’re innocent.

Wait – what?

At the risk of sounding inflammatory, welcome to the gulag, comrade. Even after a 20-month federal investigation failed to charge Armstrong, the ADA forged ahead. And let’s make no mistake here. Federal investigators are the gold standard. They do not fuck around and they very rarely get it wrong. By comparison, the USADA is a clown college. More specifically, a clown college that is not bound by concepts like due process and innocent-until-proven-guilty.

They were going to keep coming until they got Armstrong. The fact that he was innocent by their own criteria – you know, all those negative tests? – seemingly did nothing but strengthen their conviction that he was guilty. Every time Armstrong won, they would come back with another attack. Each attack required a great deal in the way of legal expenditures, and despite the fact that LA is a rich guy, a) the money wouldn’t last forever, and b) is this really how you want to spend your life and your fortune when there are other causes out there (cancer research, for instance) that matter so dearly to you?

Lance could have won ten more battles before he died, and on the day after he was buried the USADA would have declared victory and stripped him of his medals.

I’m glad we don’t live in a society where the criminal law system works like the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Think about it.

  • No real due process
  • No double-jeopardy restrictions
  • If you demonstrate your innocence via the established standards, that only proves that you’re really guilty
  • No need for probable cause – “you’re a lot better than everybody else” is sufficient
  • Suspicion = conviction
  • No oversight, no checks and balances

This is what bothers me so much this morning. It isn’t whether or not Armstrong is actually guilty, a question that I’m honestly unsure about. In my gut, I suspect he probably broke some rules. But in a court of law, could I possibly vote to convict? How could I? Ten compromised witnesses against literally hundreds of physical evidence exhibits? No thanks.

In the end, this just feels like such a contravention of the principles that the American system was founded on. It isn’t about Lance, it’s about the USADA. If it were the Soviet Russia ADA or the Sharia ADA or the Westboro Baptist ADA or the Cardassian ADA, I’d shrug and say sure, that’s how they roll. Cynical and nationalistic of me? Maybe.

But like I say, I’m bothered that we have this kind of organization in the United States, one that relies on what amounts to spite and divine revelation in its jihads against whoever it decides to hate.

Yes, I’m mad. Whatever crimes Lance Armstrong has committed, he’s more than paid for. But the USADA has taken a scalp in a way that flies in the face of every principle of justice and fair play I have ever believed in, and that’s simply not acceptable. It grates against everything I believe in as an American, and it ought to concern you, too.

Image Credit: Pepe’s Non-Smoking Party Lounge

18 replies »

  1. LA hasn’t ‘paid for his indiscretions.’ He has gotten away with it for a long time. IT’s important to show LA as a cheater and a liar and perhaps people will stop putting him on a pedestal.

    There is too much evidence out there that implicates him and it will only get worse over time. I suspect USADA had a pretty solid case and that evidence will, hopefully, see the light of day soon.

    • He has been stripped of his tour wins and Olympic medal and I can’t even guess at how much he has paid in legal bills.

      I hate to imagine what you think would be required for him to pay for whatever he may have done.

  2. The above is a cursory review of what’s going on, and what has gone on, around the Armstrong case with USADA/WADA. The conclusions drawn suggest, to me, that you aren’t fully up to speed on the facts surrounding this case.
    1) There is a great deal of evidence, going back many years, that suggests strongly that Armstrong cheated by using illegal performance enhancing substances. There was never a unified, consistent story, suggesting therefore that it was true, that Armstrong didn’t dope.
    2) There is evidence suggesting that he is at or near the core of corruption related to the use of illegal performance enhancing substances in professional cycling during his era.
    3) There is reason to suspect that the such corruption included the UCI (the organization overseeing and operating professional cycling worldwide) and its leadership.
    4) Not everyone doped/dopes in the pro peloton. There is reason to suspect that the charges against Armstrong represent the most egregious and conniving use of doping in the pro peloton during his era.
    5) There is difference between not found guilty by technicalities in the laws or rules, and of being cleared of cheating.
    6) If the charges are true, significant work needs to be done to clean up the UCI and certain influential team leadership in order to attack doping in the peloton.
    6) Armstrong signed up for working within the rules of the game, including oversight by USADA & WADA, and arbitration through them if suspected of doping.
    7) A better example of lack of due process by USADA & WADA would, imo, be Floyd Landis. Who we now know doped.
    8) You ignore the costs imposed on those who would cross Armstrong to speak up regarding doping. They are more significant than anything Armstrong has faced today.
    9) Drug testing is a very technical, complicated, and probability-based art. It is not cut and dry. Without understanding some of the underlying complications, a layperson is not in a position to evaluate the truth value of positive or negative test results.
    Net net, I disagree with you on most of the point that you raised.

    • There’s a lot of “reason to suspect” and “suggest” here. I think I’m pretty clear that suspect and suggest aren’t the same as prove.

      May you never find yourself a defendant in a court that operates according to the standards you use here.

  3. 9) Drug testing is a very technical, complicated, and probability-based art. It is not cut and dry. Without understanding some of the underlying complications, a layperson is not in a position to evaluate the truth value of positive or negative test results.

    I’m pretty sure that the poster doesn’t appreciate how this comment makes the initial case in the article. Of the half dozen or so “sanctioned” WADA testing sites around the world, it has consistently been demonstrated that none follow common standards either in measurement or sample handling. examples of samples contaminated during the testing process are well known as are the categories and thresholds of when a substance is at a positive level. When your primary source of “factual evidence” lacks consistency, it lacks credibility as well

  4. Enough with the misdirected ‘hearsay’ comments!

    Hearsay evidence is when you testify about what you ‘heard’ someone else ‘say.’ That is inadmissible as evidence in a court of law, subject to many exceptions.

    However, the testimony of other riders is direct, eye-witness testimony from co-conspirators. This is admissible and puts the onus on LA to disprove their testimony. It’s no longer enough for him to simply deny.

    Yet, LA did not take the opportunity to challenge the presumed testimony of the other riders – he simply reiterated his denial.

    Add this: LA must know who most of the riders are who would testify. Most are still his friends (Landis and Hamilton excluded – anyone remember that incident in Aspen b/w LA and Hamilton after Hamilton spilled the beans?) and surely he went to them and asked them what kind of evidence he was facing.

    So I am sure LA knew he was up against it and could not win – not b/c of a “witchhunt” or”unfair process”, but b/c he doped and finally left a big enough trail to get caught.

    • This is all nice, but you’re certainly comfortable with the credibility of these witnesses. They all seem to have lined up on cue after, you know, NOT holding this position before.

      I’m not saying he isn’t guilty. I think the post makes clear that I’m more than open to that possibility. I’m saying that you’d never get a conviction in a court of law with this “case.” And we might all be justified stripping a champion of his medals without something that looks a little more like legitimate proof.

      Just saying….

  5. But if his teammates were all doping, then the conspiracy to lie is likely when they all said that they weren’t. Did they get caught? If so, what reason would they have to stand behind Armstrong so he didn’t.

    You say that it was a time when everyone in the sport was doping. Are we supposed to believe that he wasn’t, and still beating everyone who was?

    I really haven’t paid any attention to this so i could be wrong on a lot of facts, and i haven’t paid attention because i really don’t care what happens to Lance Armstrong. I’m certainly not going to be upset because he lost meddles over possibly using PEDs when so many people lose jobs, houses, etc. and get convicted in courts of law for similar issues with drugs.

    Welcome to a drug free America. This is the kind of treatment lots of people get when the cops crash into their house or search their car without a warrant based on an assumption but no evidence. So poor Lance, he’s just left with all his money and fame and won’t be going to jail or face other serious consequences.

  6. ADA practicing Goebbels at his best! Throw enough lies and mud at someone and some of it will stick. Catus Smits post is classic. Innuendo, “suggests”, “suspects”, all cowardly backstabbing techniques to bring down someone a person doesn’t like when they have zero evidence. Cowards and trolls.

  7. Samuel,

    What’s your problem with suspicion? The idea is that one it brought to the court or arbitrator based on reasonable suspicion. Then the court or arbitration process decides if the evidence proves the suspicion, or not. The defendant has the choice to plead guilty, or accept sanctions. Alternately, they can mount their defense. Lance chose the former course – from which we can infer that his case wasn’t very strong.

    Please note, Lance has never suggested that he didn’t dope. He only ever says that he wasn’t caught.

    And the argument that eye witnesses aren’t as powerful as a drug test ignores the traditional importance of eye witnesses in judicial proceedings. Further, it ignores both the limitations of drug testing and the cases where there may have been interference between testing results and follow up actions.

    There are many sides to Lance. Some better, some worse. But objectively, he has been treated fairly, and it is reasonable to assume that he was a leading doper on the pro tour.

    That’s all,


  8. calpedlar,

    I fully agree with your assessment with standards re WADA testing. That said, we have another from of testing in this case, and one that is generally considered mighty persuasive by the courts: eye witnesses.

    Your argument that there isn’t “factual evidence”, therefore, is hollow.

    No doubt there are things that you admire about Lance. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, the most rational response to the information available is that Lance is a doper.


    • I have no problems with suspicion. My problem is when suspicion is taken for evidence. Armstrong has been convicted and hung based on the testimony of people who a) used to say he was innocent, and b) whose testimony is directly contradicted by all physical evidence.

      This is a kangaroo court and you’d be hopping mad if your legacy were ripped apart by such a process.

  9. My visceral distaste for Armstrong notwithstanding, nicely argued post. Bear in mind that two motives for doping exist:

    1. To keep up with or surpass the performance of other athletes.
    2. To help one’s body recover from the demands of the sport.

    What most don’t realize is that number two is as great or nearly as great a motive for doping as number one, especially in cycling. The problem to me, then, lies in a superhuman event like the Tour de France. At one point, it may have been an actual tour — with athletes actually taking in the scenery — but speeded up; now it’s a superhuman event — us mere mortals can’t even fathom how athletes compete eight hours a day (or however long it is) day after day. It’s all in the recovery and that is the main reason most cyclists dope (if I’m correct).

    Demanding schedules in other pro sports also motivate athletes to dope — exceptional performance aside — just to keep playing. It’s another reason athletes wind up dependent on drugs like Vicodin, which accelerate the exit of soreness from an athlete’s body.

    Look not to the sportsmen and women, but to the events and schedules (even though players’ associations agree to them). Okay, look to the pursuit of maximum profit then in a short time-frame.

  10. What’s weird is that if he used PEDs, he would do so after experiencing this:

    One night later that month, however, several days after his twenty-fifth birthday, he felt something metallic in his throat while he was talking on the phone. He put his friend on hold, and ran into the bathroom. “I coughed into the sink,” he later wrote. “It splattered with blood. I coughed again, and spit up another stream of red. I couldn’t believe the mass of blood and clotted matter had come from my own body.”

    Within a week, Armstrong had surgery to remove the cancerous testicle. By then, the disease had spread to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. He needed brain surgery and the most aggressive type of chemotherapy. “At that point, he had a minority chance of living another year,” Craig Nichols, who was Armstrong’s principal oncologist, told me. “We cure at most a third of the people in situations like that.” A professor at Oregon Health Sciences University who specializes in testicular cancer, Nichols has remained a friend and is an adviser to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which supports cancer research. Nichols described Armstrong as the “most willful person I have ever met.” And, he said, “he wasn’t willing to die.” Armstrong underwent four rounds of chemotherapy so powerful that the chemicals destroyed his musculature and caused permanent kidney damage; in the final treatments, the chemicals left burns on his skin from the inside out.

  11. The only thing that will convince me is testimony from people who tested LA, stating how they falsified his test results and offering evidence to support it.

    If you are doping you don’t pass that many tests without help when so many people in the same sport are being caught.