Lance Armstrong: Guilt, innocence, fairness, and unfairness collide

Maybe Lance Armstrong doped. Maybe he didn't. No matter which statement is correct, the lasting story is that the USADA stopped him from a fair chance at defense. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, September 1, 2012 — The scarlet “C” or the yellow jersey? To the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Lance Armstrong is doomed to the former. To the legendary cyclist himself, he still wears yellow for the 7 Tour de France titles that the USADA recently erased from his record. To the public, the case is up in the air because of USADA procedures and positions that have stopped Armstrong from fighting the charges that have so far left him with a complete erasure of his competition record dating to 1998 and a lifetime ban from cycling.

The USADA appeals process as it stands today is little more than a kangaroo court. In USADA appeals court, the case is handled by the same USADA officials, who are in effect being sued. The decision is handed down by USADA-appointed (and USADA-paid) judges. For evidence to be admitted, it must be pre-approved by the USADA. Is it any wonder that Armstrong wanted no part of his last legal, but decidedly quasi-reputable, option?

Turning briefly to whether Armstrong really was part of the vast doping ring that the USADA alleges he was in the thick of, it bears repeating that logic and good character have often failed when trying to guess the guilt of an athlete from the PED and doping era. But with a man like Armstrong, who transcended his sport more than any other athlete, something just refuses to add up. And for once, it’s more than just the “he is/was my hero” denial that for years blotted out the doubt about athletes like Mark McGwire.

Can anyone honestly, in good conscience, imagine widespread doping, complete with its body-damaging consequences, by a man who beat a cancer diagnose that left him with a less than 40% chance of survival? It’s impossible to reconcile the images of Armstrong the doping fiend cheating by night, and raising $475 million for cancer awareness by day. The picture simply doesn’t come together. The facts don’t line up.

And what of motivation? Surely, he wasn’t after prize money, which he gave away to charity and to his teammates. The money he gave to Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Frankie Andreu, and George Hincapie, former teammates who are almost certainly many of the competitors whose sealed testimony the USADA used to justify banning Armstrong.

Putting the discussion about Armstrong’s guilt, of which I for one am still unsure of what to believe, aside, the real issue remains the lack of due process that caused him to accept his ban and step away from defending himself. In a free country, Lance Armstrong deserves the right to a fair and open trial. When his lawsuit against the USADA was dismissed, it was not out of a belief that the USADA appeals system is fair. United States District Court Judge Sam Sparks dismissed the case on the basis that Armstrong, as a US-registered cyclist, simply signed away his rights by being subject to USADA rules as part of his cycling license.

In the same opinion, USADA rules and procedures were panned at best. The USADA investigation’s conflicts, jurisdictional and otherwise with the International Cycling Union (UCI) were almost outright derided. But the final straw was that the United States Government didn’t have oversight.

That left Lance Armstrong with no fair options and no options that would preserve his reputation. By stepping out of the way, the USADA got exactly what they had created: a verdict of guilty until proven innocent. With no real avenues to contest his guilt, Armstrong could only protest and be deemed guilty. But until he gets a fair fight, with the UCI’s decision, probably his last chance for one, he’ll keep wearing yellow.


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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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